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Open letter to

Earvin "Magic" Johnson:

Like many others, I was stunned by the news that you have the AIDS virus. Your basketball prowess has been televised around the world. Your interviews and charitable involvements portray you as a compassionate man. I have you, your wife and unborn child much on my mind and in my prayers. God be with you as you face the future.

You said you were going to be a messenger about the AIDS virus. In order that others may avoid contracting this fatal disease, you intend to promote "safe sex" especially to teens. Few others have the platform on this issue which you now have. I hope, Mr. Johnson, that you examine thoughtfully the notion of "safe sex."

Does safe sex simply mean that a man should use a condom? Could such a simple explanation, upon analysis, actually be simplistic? Giving advice about avoiding a fatal disease requires great concern and complete accuracy on your part.

Promoting the condom as the answer to AIDS has at least two serious problems. First, condoms are themselves sometimes defective. This is worrisome when dealing with a fatal disease. Second, sexual activity with condoms can become so habitual that sexual relations will sometimes be had when a condom is not available or considered a nuisance.

In other words, advocating condoms for so-called safe sex becomes a matter of Russian roulette. A condom mentality will inevitably lead some people to discover that their sexual activity was not safe after all. This aspect of safe sex must be directly faced.

Another consideration is personal relationships and safe sex. What does safe sex with a person who is not one's spouse do to a marriage relationship? And what does safe sex do for personal relationships between those not married? Biologically safe sex can do real psychological harm. This issue, too, must be forthrightly addressed.

As a Catholic, I believe that the bible is God's word. I believe that the inspired words of scripture, especially from Jesus but also from Paul, indicate that sexual intercourse is limited to marriage. Sexual intercourse outside marriage is immoral. (A lot of our societal problems would be alleviated if more people accepted this conviction and tried to live by it.)

But there is another moral issue: one has to consider the morality of intercourse when a fatal disease can be contracted or passed on. In other words, morality relates not only to the sacredness of marriage but also to the ethical requirement of avoiding life endangering activity.

Not everyone is aware that 75% of people with the AIDS virus are heterosexual. That worldwide figure is not true at this time in the United States. The majority of people in this country with the virus have contracted the disease through homosexual activity, the use of virus-carrying drug needles or by taking contaminated blood into one's own body, for example, through a blood transfusion. What you have publicly said, Mr. Johnson, is certainly true: AIDS is not contracted only through homosexual activity.

A novelist who writes about homosexuality, and is himself homosexual, begins one of his books by saying that sex is worth dying for. I do not believe that. I suspect many people with AIDS, who contracted the disease through either homosexual or heterosexual activity, also do not believe that. Life is too encompassing of multiple experiences to give it up for sex.

What you will be saying in the months ahead, Mr. Johnson, can do much good or harm. Look more closely at the notion of so-called "safe" sex and its dangers. As a religious person, I also invite you to read the scripture. I pray that your faith in God will be a great source of strength and guidance for you and all your loved ones. I pray, too, for all the scientists who are working on the difficult challenge of finding a cure for AIDS.

~~~~~Bishop John LeibrechtSpringfield-Cape Girardeau

Catholic Diocese