Thursday, January 20, 2005

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The bishop and the condoms

Chiapacaños are an ornery bunch. Never mind the Zapatistas, they're the new kids on the block. The folks down in Chiapas have been battling with outsiders, and squabbling among themselves for the last 1500 years or so. Even the Spanish overlords down there have been more feisty than your normal imperalist oppressors. Crisobel Olid set the stage when he rebelled against Cortés, and Pedro de Alvarado attached the place to his own fiefdom of Guatemala. The Spanish annoyed the local Mayans. The Spanish clergy annoyed the Spanish. Early on they started complaining about decent colonial practices (like rape and pillage) and, on one famous occasion, excommunicated slave owners (and burned a few at the stake as a lesson to the others). The emeritus bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz used to keep military maps in his office, making no secret of his pro-Zapatista sympathies. He was forced into retirement and the Vatican installed the Conservative, Felipe Arizmendi. Bishop Arizmendi once called Starbucks the agent of Satan (Starbucks screws the local coffee growers... and the Bishop is right, anyway). It looks like now he's taking on the Vatican: Bishop backs condom use in war against HIV Bishop Felipe Arizmendi calls for toleration concerning contraceptives. BY LAURENCE ILIFF/Dallas Morning NewsJanuary 21, 2005 A Mexican Catholic bishop this week joined a Spanish counterpart in endorsing the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection, in what one analyst called a fresh challenge to Pope John Paul II. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi said at a news conference that under some circumstances the use of a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS should be tolerated as a "lesser evil." That directly contradicts the official position of the Roman Catholic Church against all artificial birth control. Arizmendi, whose diocese is in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, said his comments did not contradict church policy in favor of abstinence and fidelity. "But we know how to respect the decisions of people, in such a way that if someone is incapable of controlling their instincts, is not developed in their personality, then they should use whatever is necessary in order not to infect others and not to infect themselves, because for these types of people there is no other alternative," Arizmendi said. However the Mexican Catholic Church contended Thursday that condom use is a false solution to the AIDS pandemic, adding its voice to the discussion opened up by the Spanish Bishops' Conference spokesman's statements on the matter earlier in the week. The Mexican Bishops' Conference (CEM) said Thursday in a communiqué that "AIDS has profound repercussions of a moral, social, economic, juridical and organizational nature, not only for families and local groups, but also for nations and all peoples." The CEM said that "people with AIDS are not distant, unknown persons, nor are they the object of our mix of pity and repulsion. Consciously, we must keep them in mind as individuals and as a community take them in with unconditional love." "We must reject the false doctrine that HIV-AIDS is a punishment from God; it is rather a call to work together in the education and sensitizing of humanity to reduce new infections and discrimination against those who are the carriers of this virus," the CEM said. Still, one Mexican church analyst said that the debate over condoms is likely to get more intense, not less, given the infirmity of Pope John Paul II and the apparent challenge to his policies by even conservative bishops. "I think most bishops know that the practice of total prohibition of condoms is absurd," said Roberto Blancarte, a professor of sociology and religion at El Colegio de Mexico. "These bishops in general are quite conservative, but they live within an overall society, and Spanish society is much more liberal than they are," he said. Likewise, Mexican priests see the ravages of HIV infection in communities and question the ban on condoms, he said. The latest debate, Blancarte said, comes at a time when the pope is ailing and his grip on power at the Vatican might be weakening. EFE contributed to this report


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