Of Condoms, Catholics and Blood

Disturbed by the Red Cross' promotion of condom use, local Catholics are finding other organizations to handle blood drives. But is their stand having the intended result?

The road to ethical behavior is paved with good intentions. Just look at the St. Louis Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the American Red Cross, two groups that have gotten a bit crossways with each other.

Compared with most local organizations -- say, Monsanto or the Regional Chamber and Growth Association -- the two are do-gooder groups. Catholic Charities helps thousands of the down-and-out; the Red Cross comes to the aid of the victims of floods, earthquakes and other adverse acts of God. But the St. Louis Bi-State Chapter of the Red Cross, not to be confused with the separate Blood Services Division of the Red Cross, recommends the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. The Catholic Church doesn't see condoms as an ethical option, either for contraception or the prevention of a fatal disease. The preferable solution, as far as the church is concerned, is the opposite of the Nike slogan -- that is, don't do it. Abstinence.

The conflict between the two otherwise compatible organizations has led to the switching of some local parish blood drives to a different blood handler. The drift away from using the Red Cross for blood drives started late last year, when the Pro Life Committee of the Archdiocese recommended that local pastors consider alternatives.

Steve Edwards, marketing director for the not-for-profit Gateway Community Blood Services, says blood drives at about 15 Catholic churches, several Knights of Columbus chapters and a couple of high schools have dropped the Red Cross and switched to Gateway. "There's not only been Catholic churches, there's been other churches, too, that aren't Catholic, that have the same beliefs," says Edwards, who hastens to add that Gateway is not soliciting new clients on the basis of those beliefs. "We're not taking sides on any of this." A Red Cross spokesperson describes the partial boycott as "not a big deal" and says it has had little effect on the Red Cross blood bank or overall blood supply in the community.

For Catholics, which organization to choose for blood drives took the form of a "recommendation, not a mandate," according to Steve Mamanella, spokesman for the archdiocese. "We want people to continue to donate blood, especially when there is a need for such things, which there generally always is. Our parishes are really a good way to offer that. Using Gateway is a way to do that without conflicting with our beliefs," says Mamanella. "The point is, whether a person donates through the Red Cross or through Gateway, they're still helping the local blood supply."

What triggered the opposition to the Red Cross was its HIV-AIDS education program, "Act Smart," geared for youths ages 14-17. The program includes "activity sheets" that describe condoms and how to use them. But, alas, it's not as simple as all that. The AIDS-education program is part of the St. Louis Bi-State Chapter of the American Red Cross, which is run separately, with a separate budget, from the Blood Services Division of the Red Cross. In fact, the archdiocese does not oppose supporting the disaster-relief efforts by the Red Cross.

"Certainly the Red Cross does some wonderful work when it comes to disaster relief and in many other areas," says Mamanella. But, he says, the recommendation was made to consider other blood-service organizations as a protest of the Red Cross' promotion of condom use: "In this area, though, there was a concern related to the curriculum, and this is an area where there is another alternative to support."

So by switching to Gateway Blood Services and away from Red Cross, local churches may be registering a protest, but by aiding and abetting the Red Cross in disaster-relief efforts, they are also supporting the same branch of the organization that runs the AIDS-prevention program.

And it gets even more convoluted.

Gateway and other blood-service agencies, during emergencies, have given blood to the side of the Red Cross that deals with disasters -- in other words, the same division of the Red Cross that includes the AIDS-prevention program. So it's possible, though unlikely, that blood drawn at a Catholic parish and given to Gateway could end up with the Red Cross for disaster relief. Let's just hope the Almighty can keep track of all this.

YIPPEE -- AMERICA'S "BEST SPORTS CITY" GETS ANOTHER TALK SHOW: Enough already about the Sporting News' naming this town the "best sports city in America." Is it good news that we have the best and most ardent spectators in the nation? St. Louis -- the voyeur capital of the nation. And if Sporting News head honcho John Rawlings is interviewed one more time, he'll have a higher profile than Bob Holden. Bob who?

In an effort to yap more about what we watch and obsess about, KTRS (550 AM) has debuted a new sports-talk show featuring Howard Balzer, John Hadley and Scott Warmann. After a few years of making noises about how his station is going to slay the KMOX (1120 AM) dragon, KTRS mogul Tim Dorsey has surrendered on news but is making a frontal assault in sports. This year, Dorsey bought rights to the Blues games, and now KTRS has added a 6:30-8 p.m. sports-talk show and a Sunday-morning broadcast with Balzer, Hadley and Warmann.

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