What if an international organization was working to doom thousands of people — particularly women — to a (shortened) life of suffering from sexually transmitted disease, all the while dogmatically insisting that its position on condoms is the truth, no matter what science says to the contrary?

One is.

It's called Catholics for a Free Choice, and the group uses the name even though it has been repudiated by the U.S. bishops.

The group insists on promoting condom use despite the mounting scientific evidence that condoms are ineffective against venereal diseases.

A handy list of statistics compiled recently by the Family Research Council (at their teen site, http://www.ieteen.org) shows just how dangerous the condom campaigns of groups like Catholic for a Free Choice are.

The Institute of Medicine reports that approximately 12 million new [cases of] STDs, 3 million of them among teenagers, occur annually. An estimated 56 million Americans have an incurable viral STD other than HIV, such as genital herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV). That's more than one in five Americans.

Condoms, whether used correctly and consistently or not, do not prevent the spread of HPV, which has been linked to over 90% of all invasive cervical cancers, and is the No. 2 cause of cancer deaths among women, after breast cancer. The Medical Institute of Sexual Health (MISH) estimates that 33% of all women are infected with HPV.

Most people infected with HPV do not know it, because there are not always symptoms. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, only 11% of teens aged 15-17 and adults aged 18-44 could name HPV as a sexually transmitted disease, and only 30% of them were aware that HPV is incurable.

Condom promotions actually increase the risk of such diseases, because they increase the amount of sexual activity. A study of adolescents taking part in a three-year condom promotion experiment in Switzerland showed that the proportion of girls under the age of 17 engaging in sexual activity increased by almost two-thirds — from 36% to 57%.

Catholics for a Free Choice and other groups promoting condoms ought to be spending their time warning women about these dangers. Instead, they are duping them into believing that condoms make them safe.

Better yet, if the group truly cared about preventing venereal diseases, it would preach against condom use and for abstinence — in other words, it would promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The world is crying out for just such a message.

A 1994 Roper Starch study found that 62% of sexually experienced high school girls (and 54% of all sexually experienced teens) say they “should have waited” to have sex. Similarly, when an Emory University survey asked 1,000 sexually experienced teen girls what they would like to learn to reduce teen pregnancy, approximately 85% said, “How to say No without hurting the other person's feelings.”

A 1994 poll by ICR Survey Research Group for USA Weekend asked more than 1,200 teens and adults what they thought of “several high-profile athletes [who] are saying in public that they have abstained from sex before marriage and are telling teens to do the same.”

Seventy-two percent of the 12- to 17-year-olds and 78% of the adults said they agree with the pro-abstinence message. Moreover, 44% of those under the age of 18 said “today's teen-agers hear too little about saying No to sex.”

The Church's way isn't just the healthy way — it's the happier way.

A 1991 review of longitudinal research by the National Center for Health Statistics and the University of Maryland found that women who save sex for marriage face a considerably lower risk of divorce than those who are sexually active prior to marriage. This finding holds true even after differences in maternal education, parents' marital status, religion and other measures of family background are taken into account.

But no. Catholics for a Free Choice dogmatically rejects such evidence. Instead, it is printing provocative ads on bus shelters in New York. “Catholic people care,” says the ad. “Do our bishops? Banning Condoms Kills.”

Yes, Catholic bishops care. That's why they've repudiated Catholics for a Free Choice. Thank God for the Church's refusal to compromise truth for fads and follies.