Philippine Pro-Lifers Take On 'Free Choice Catholics'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Pro-family and pro-life groups in the Philippines are challenging media advertisements that accuse Roman Catholic bishops of responsibility for millions of AIDS deaths because of church teaching on artificial contraception.

In a letter of complaint sent to the Advertising Board of the Philippines (Adboard), the Catholic Bishops Conference, Prolife Philippines and a number of other organizations charged that the ads by the U.S.-based Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) violated advertising codes of ethics.

Published in a major Philippine daily paper last February, one ad read: "Catholic bishops preach sanctity of life. But their ban on condoms contributes to millions of people around the world dying.

"Most Catholics disagree with this policy. Yet the Catholic hierarchy lobbies governments around the world and at the United Nations to restrict access to condoms that could help prevent the spread of AIDS ... we urge you to join us in the global campaigning to end the bishops' ban on condoms."

The ads are part of a CFFC campaign called "Condoms4Life," which the organization says has "received great response in its initial phase with successful launches in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America."

Other ads include the phrases: "Because the bishops ban condoms, innocent people die" and "Banning condoms kills."

Catholic teaching promotes abstinence from sex outside of marriage - in contrast to the widely-promoted "safe sex" message - and the use of natural family planning methods within marriage.

Adboard is a umbrella organization supervising nine major advertising associations in predominantly Catholic Philippines.

The body operates on the principle of industry self-regulation, and is empowered to impose sanctions against anyone found to have violated a code of ethics, including the advertiser, ad agency and media organization which ran the ad.

Attorney Jo Imbong of the Catholic Bishops Conference legal office, said from Manila Friday the complaint was sent to Adboard chairman Oscar Valenzuela for two reasons.

The ads were guilty of "dishonest advertising" in that the group described itself as Catholic, and in that the ad claimed that condom use protected against the spread of the AIDS virus, despite evidence to the contrary, she said.

The ad had also "shown such disrespect and profanity against our faith and our religious authorities," she added.

The code of ethics calls on advertisers to promote, among other things, "respect for religious beliefs, customs and traditions," "respect for law and authority," and "adherence to principles of justice, honesty and fair play."

"We felt it was time to put them on the line," Imbong said.

As far as she was aware, the ad's placement in the Daily Inquirer was the only appearance it had made in the Philippines, although she was following up sightings this week of a similar one on a billboard alongside a key thoroughfare.

Condom debate

Imbong said the running of the ad coincided with a visit to Manila by Bernard Nathanson, an American abortionist turned pro-life campaigner. Nathanson during his visit urged Filipinos "not to follow in the bloody footsteps of the United States and Western Europe with respect to abortion."

Commenting earlier this year on the group's decision to take the ad campaign to the Philippines, CFFC president Frances Kissling said: "In the Philippines, the church is very powerful, the church is extremely powerful in the public policy arenas, but the church is actually less powerful in people's personal behavior."

Kissling argued that "many" leaders in the Catholic Church supported the idea that using condoms to prevent AIDS was "a lesser evil than many many people dying of the disease."

Campaigners on both sides of the debate challenge each other's arguments about the efficacy of condoms and accuse each other of selective use of statistics.

CFFC cites reports by the World Health Organization and other bodies that say condom use is effective in preventing AIDS.

Pro-lifers point to other studies, highlighting the risks of condom failure, and argue that giving the impression that sex with a condom is "safe" is both misleading and highly dangerous.

Reacting to the CFFC's condom campaign, the pro-life American Life League has run ads of its own, saying it part: "The [CFFC] ads imply there is scientific evidence supporting the theory that increased condom use reduces AIDS and other forms of sexually-transmitted death and disease. Sadly the opposite is true."


American Life League president Judie Brown has described CFFC as "a group of heretics, not Catholics."

Imbong said Friday she found it offensive that CFFC called itself Catholic. "They believe a credo which shows definitely this is not Catholic - they advocate abortion on demand - it's a serious deception that they claim to be Catholic."

In their letter of complaint, the Filipino groups also queried CFFC's Catholic credentials.

"Can a movement be called Catholic, that openly rejects and distorts Catholic teachings, especially respect and protection of defenseless unborn human life?" they asked.

"Can a movement be called Catholic, that masterminds, promotes, and wages a relentless agenda using all means necessary to expel the Holy See from the United Nations?"

CFFC's "See Change" campaign seeks to have the Vatican's status of non-voting permanent observer at the U.N. downgraded to that of a non-governmental organization.

Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute president Austin Ruse noted Friday that CFFC attacks on the Vatican at the U.N. have been continuing.

"During the Commission on Population and Development held in early April, CFFC submitted an official document to the Commission calling for the Holy See to 'support the use of condoms to prevent AIDS and other diseases; to approve the use of modern methods of contraception, including emergency contraception, to prevent unwanted pregnancy; and to support non-coercive, safe and legal abortion.' "

Ruse warmly welcomed the Filipinos' challenge, and suggested pro-lifers elsewhere follow their example.

See also:
Catholic Bishops Blamed for 'Killing' AIDS Victims (Dec. 4, 2001)
Resenting Its Influence, Activists Take Aim at the Vatican (Jul. 12, 2000)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow