CINCINNATI — A county-run needle exchange program hosted in a Catholic hospital’s parking lot has stopped distributing condoms, following action from Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
“This matter was addressed and favorably resolved last week, as soon as it came to the attention of the archdiocese,” Mike Schafer, director of the archdiocese’s communication and mission promotion department, told CNA April 9.
“Condom distribution is no longer part of the Hamilton County Public Health Harm Reduction Program, run from their van parked in the Mercy Health — Clermont Hospital parking lot,” he said. “Archbishop Schnurr engaged with Mercy Health leadership on this issue, with the resulting decision being to disallow condom distribution on hospital property.”
The archdiocese was unaware that condom distribution was part of the Hamilton County Public Health Program until the fact was brought to its attention by CNA inquiries, said Schafer.
Mercy Health is not owned or operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Rather, its sponsors include the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. The system has hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky.
The Mercy Health — Clermont Hospital in Batavia, Ohio, had been hosting in its parking lot a van that was part of a county-run needle exchange program. As part of its harm reduction strategy, the program offered condoms, as well as injection equipment and other health services, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
“After engaging in further discussion with Archbishop Schnurr from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we have asked the Hamilton County Health Department to discontinue the availability of condoms in the van,” Mercy Health representative Nanette Bentley told CNA April 10. “The Hamilton County Public Health Department needle exchange program van will continue to serve the community, providing needle exchange and access to testing and resources.”
In April 3 comments to CNA, Bentley had described the program as “a harm reduction program aimed at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C.”
“The program includes needle exchange, access to testing and condoms as a holistic approach to harm reduction,” she had said, noting that clients would enter the Hamilton County Public Health property when they entered the van. The van was staffed only by county employees.
Previous news reports on the exchange program noted that condoms were distributed at the Mercy Health location, but not in a similar program hosted at two facilities of the Kentucky-based St. Elizabeth Healthcare system. That health system is sponsored by the Diocese of Covington.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center, which handles inquiries on Catholic bioethics issues, has always argued against condom distribution, Catholic bioethicist John Brehany, the center’s director of institutional relations, told CNA.
“One reason is that Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae teaches that every sexual act must retain its essential openness to procreation,” he said. In addition, “if someone has a dangerous disease, really, the better ethical action is not to expose someone else to it at all.”