'People are already using them to prevent HIV'


Massgoers in Nairobi tell Jody Clarkeunwanted pregnancy is as big an issue as HIV/Aids

THE EVENING sun casts a glimmer across Nairobi’s glass high skyline, as Massgoers filter into the 6pm Sunday service at the Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Family.

At 6.05pm the stragglers pass Mary Consolata (38) beside the bookshop to the front, underneath the entrance barrier to the car park, before taking their seats inside the 28-year-old concrete edifice.

She is handing out the Mass programme, and is delighted with Pope Benedict’s comments on condom use, even if she says he probably did not go far enough.

“It is about time. We need condoms to prevent pregnancy in young girls like these,” she says, taking 10 shillings (€0.10) for a programme from two teenage girls and dropping it into a yellow plastic bag.

“You can end up sleeping with someone one night, and the next morning they are not interested in you. You can’t just get pregnant with someone you don’t know.”

Her comments on unwanted pregnancy are echoed by Sheila Muriuki, a young woman cradling her 17-month-old daughter Chloe at the side of the basilica.

“It was about time he said it as people are generally using them for fear of getting pregnant and having an unwanted pregnancy.

“Unwanted pregnancy is probably a bigger problem than HIV as women don’t want to have abortions.” This is a major issue for many Catholics in Kenya, who make up about one-third of the population.

The Catholic Church opposed a referendum in August on a new constitution, because of a clause which said abortion is permissible if there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger. In the end, the referendum was backed by 67 per cent of voters.

However, outside the basilica, only one person says he has a problem with the new line from the Vatican. “It is not good. It will increase immorality,” says Jospiat Mayaro, (32), standing over a stall of religious-themed magazines, CDs and DVDs.

“According to the church, we have to abstain from sex until marriage,” he says. “After that it should be okay to use condoms, but even then some marriages are not 100 per cent perfect. People can use condoms to go off and do things on the side.”

The Catholic Church has long been criticised for its hardline stance on condom use, with many campaigners suggesting that it has held back the fight against HIV/Aids in Africa.

But despite his comments that the use of condoms might be justified on a case-by-case basis to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids, the congregation outside the basilica say that most people have been using them anyway.

“People are already using them to prevent HIV,” says Joseph Thuku (41), an accountant who has come to mass with his friend Joseph Wainana (26), a pharmacist, who says he sells contraceptives at the pharmacy where he works.

Does he see a contradiction between being a Catholic and his work? “We are trained as professionals, to do the work we do regardless of faith. I work as a pharmacist, not a Catholic.”

'LIGHT OF THE WORLD' What Pope  Benedict said:

The book, a question-and-answer format with journalist Peter Seewald, is published tomorrow.

* On condoms to fight the spread of Aids: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanisation of sexuality.

She [the church] does not regard it [the use of condoms) as a real or moral solution, but, in this case, there can nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

* On the Church’s sexual abuse crisis: “Yes, it is a great crisis, we have to say that. It was upsetting for all of us. Suddenly so much filth. It was really almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything, so that above all the priesthood suddenly seemed to be a place of shame and every priest was under the suspicion of being one like that too.”

* On the possibility of resigning one day: “When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign.

“Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the difficult situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on, but one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it”.