Cardinal Ratzinger on "The Many Faces of AIDS"

1988 Letter From the Then Prefect of Doctrinal Congregation

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2005 ( As part of a series of occasional reprints of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s writings before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, ZENIT presents a letter he wrote on AIDS.

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On «The Many Faces of AIDS»
Letter to Archbishop Pio Laghi
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
May 29, 1988

The lively discussion, widened and sometimes distorted by the press worldwide, which followed the publication of the NCCB Administrative Board’s well-known document, «The Many Faces of AIDS,» and in which were involved distinguished representatives of the episcopate, has generated in many of the faithful, and not only in the United States, a good deal of confusion regarding the authentic Catholic position on the moral problems involved. The Holy See wishes, therefore, to express its deep concern that the unity so necessary among the bishops in the teaching of Christian moral doctrine be clearly and publicly demonstrated.

In the first place, and on a more general level, one must keep in mind the problem posed by the worldwide reaction which accompanies certain documents issued by various episcopal conferences. This requires a particular sense of responsibility and prudence in the choice of themes to be treated and in the manner in which these statements are published, not to mention a careful composition of the texts themselves. At least in some cases, when the subjects under discussion are of interest to the universal church, it would seem advisable to consult in advance with the Holy See.

Secondly, regarding the precise moral issue in question here, I want to draw attention to the clarification which appeared in the March 10 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, in an unsigned article entitled «Prevention of AIDS: Christian Ethical Aspect,» and I quote,

«To seek a solution to the problem of infection by promoting the use of prophylactics would be to embark on a way not only insufficiently reliable from the technical point of view, but also and above all, unacceptable from the moral aspect. Such a proposal for ‘safe’ or at least ‘safer’ sex — as they say — ignores the real cause of the problem, namely, the permissiveness which, in the area of sex as in that related to other abuses, corrodes the moral fiber of the people.»

In the case here under discussion, it hardly seems pertinent to appeal to the classical principle of tolerance of the lesser evil on the part of those who exercise responsibility for the temporal good of society. In fact, even when the issue has to do with educational programs promoted by the civil government, one would not be dealing simply with a form of passive toleration but rather with a kind of behavior which would result in at least the facilitation of evil.

The problem of educational programs in specifically Catholic schools and institutions requires particular attention. These facilities are called to provide their own contribution for the prevention of AIDS, in full fidelity to the moral doctrine of the church, without at the same time engaging in compromises which may even give the impression of trying to condone practices which are immoral, for example, technical instructions in the use of prophylactic devices.

In a society which seems increasingly to downgrade the value of chastity, conjugal fidelity and temperance, and to be preoccupied sometimes almost exclusively with physical health and temporal well-being, the Church’s responsibility is to give that kind of witness which is proper to her, namely an unequivocal witness of effective and unreserved solidarity with those who are suffering and, at the same time, a witness of defense of the dignity of human sexuality which can only be realized within the context of moral law. It is likewise crucial to note, as the board statement does, that the only medically safe means of preventing AIDS are those very types of behavior which conform to God’s law and to the truth about man which the church has always taught and today is still called courageously to teach.

I am confident that these considerations, which are known to His Holiness and have his fullest support, will be welcomed by the cardinal and bishop members of the conference and I wish to express my sincerest hope for a successful conclusion of this important meeting of the entire episcopate of the United States.»

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

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