06/06/2011 01:08 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011

The Vatican's Unsupportable Logic

There is strained logic, to put it mildly, in the statement that condom use will increase rather than reduce the spread of AIDS. Doesn't the premise suggest that no protection against sexually transmitted disease is better than some?

In this day and age, when ever more ubiquitous AIDS can be lurking in unsuspected places, rejecting condom use in principle is outright convoluted thinking. Yet, that is the official position to which the Catholic Church still clings.

Ignoring condoms may have no adverse consequences for a healthy monogamous couple. But the reality is that in many if not most societies, a behavioral pattern involving multiple sexual contacts is commonplace, abetted by culturally sanctioned custom or just general permissiveness. In such environments, condoms have an important role to play in curbing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

This is the reality that the Vatican denies when it preaches that condom use creates a false sense of security that leads to more AIDS cases than would otherwise occur. (It was a claim most recently voiced in the official Vatican newspaper during a Church-sponsored AIDS conference held in Rome during the May 27-28th weekend.)

One of the attacks that the Church levels against condoms is that they are not very effective. It cites statistics in which an African region where contraceptive use was prevalent had a higher AIDS rate than a region where contraceptive use was not.

This discrepancy can most likely be traced to a factor that the Vatican ignores. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the preponderance of epidemiological studies and extensive monitoring have found that condoms do work well, provided they are made of latex and used consistently and correctly. Even the cheapest made condoms, the CDC says, reduce exposure risk to AIDS 10,000 fold, and when manufactured of good quality and properly used are 98 percent effective. Hence, in disease-plagued areas where condoms have not had dramatic impact in reducing AIDS incidence, educational programs are likely to be deficient or poorly attended.

The Church's formula for AIDS prevention is based on the moral principle of marital fidelity: celibacy until wedded and avoidance of any extra-marital sex thereafter. Where sexual activity outside of wedlock is prevalent, behavioral patterns must be changed -- a suppression of powerful human libido that is a formidable challenge at the very least.

What if one of the spouses has AIDS? The Vatican remains adamant against condom use. Instead, it advocates that the couple abstain from sex for the rest of their lives, an easy thing for a priest to say.

The bottom line is that neither abstinence outside of marriage nor artificial contraception is a zero sum game in the battle against AIDS. Both have a role in complex societies, with the latter coming into play when the former, for whatever reason, cannot be maintained.

Edward Flattau's fourth book, 'Green Morality,' is now available.