Monday, July 30, 2007

Row over youth day safe-sex message

THE Catholic Church says it will not co-operate with any safe-sex campaign to educate 500,000 young pilgrims expected to flock to Sydney for Australia's biggest religious event.

The NSW Department of Health will have to go it alone if it wants to develop and disseminate any messages about safe sex, including information on HIV and sexually transmittable diseases, which it provided for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Gay Games and the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The church has refused to promote health advice that contradicts its position on contraception. It has reasserted its opposition to condom use, argued that Catholics should postpone sex until marriage, and pointed to an "extraordinary low level of indiscretion" at previous events.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, said a fact sheet was being prepared containing various health messages.

However, her department would say only that it was working closely with the organisers of the World Youth Day 2008 regarding logistical arrangements for health care for pilgrims and guests "should it be required".

"At this stage in planning there has been no decision made on the nature of other support required from NSW Health by the organisers," the department said.

The church's "head in the sand approach" has drawn criticism from the Greens MP Lee Rhiannon, who described its position as dangerous and said it missed an important opportunity to send a message of lifelong safe practices to young participants.

The church said it encouraged young people to have a high level of self-esteem and respect for their bodies, sexuality, relationships, marriage and family life: "Organisers of previous World Youth Days testify to the extraordinarily high level of idealism amongst the young people who attend and the extraordinarily low level of indiscretion."

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