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?

Aug 23, 2000 at 4:00 am
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.

Balzer, long a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and a former columnist for The Riverfront Times, knows as much as anyone and more than most when it comes to football. Hadley, formerly an editor at the Sporting News and currently the writer of a local online sports newsletter with more than 4,000 subscribers, can be edgy and in-your-face. Warmann, the youngest of the trio, formerly had a show on WGNU (920 AM). The trio will also hold postmortems after Rams games.

Balzer jumped from a part-time gig at all-sports-talk KFNS (590 AM, 100.7 FM), and, according to Hadley's newsletter, he was the subject of a lot of "backstabbing" and "bad-mouthing" by folks at KFNS. Greg Maracek, CEO of KFNS, responded to inquiries about Hadley's charges with a written statement that he sees "no need to find or read" Hadley's account of Balzer's exit from KFNS and noting that Balzer was a "valued member at KFNS who did a super job covering the Rams last season."

Hadley, of course, was not so reticent. He called the sniping at KFNS with regard to Balzer's departure "appalling" but says he thinks Maracek may be right about one thing: "Maracek went around telling people I was too abrasive, that I would be too much trouble for a radio station, and he could be right." Example? "This is an incredibly condescending statement," Hadley accurately admits, "but they're badmouthing me because they know damned well if I was going in there in competition against them, I'd kick their ass. If I went in there and did their show, I'd kick their ass." Another example? On "The Pit" portion of Sunday Sports Plus on KSDK (Channel 5) a few weeks ago, Hadley said something was "uglier than Roseanne naked." There could be uglier images -- consider John Goodman naked or, perish the thought, John Hadley naked.

For Hadley, who lived in Florida after leaving the Sporting News in '91, the return to his hometown was spurred by Dorsey's perseverance. "All I kept hearing while I was in Florida was how KTRS was going to go under, (that) there's no way Dorsey could survive," says Hadley. "Well, they just got their best book ever; they're expanding their sports coverage; they got the Blues; they brought us in." Hadley says that when you have Dorsey for a boss, "you got a guy who has balls the size of church bells going to bat for you."

The extent of Dorsey's testicular fortitude notwithstanding, KTRS continues to struggle, with morning drivetime a persistent financial and aesthetic sinkhole. Dorsey made sure Kevin Slaten couldn't carpe another diem at KTRS, replacing him with the latest version of a new-and- improved morning host, Darrell Ankarlo, who's being shipped in from Nashville. Slaten is yet another abandoned vehicle at KTRS, along with Bill Wilkerson, Donn Johnson, Kevin Horrigan, J.C. Corcoran and Dan Dierdorf (though the ex-tackle still does cameo appearances). Wendy Wiese, inexplicably, lingers on.

WE'VE SEEN THE FUTURE, AND IT'S A KMART AND A WALGREENS: Despite all that coalition-building on the South Side, despite all the warm bodies packing those tedious conditional-use hearings at City Hall, don't bet against the big-money boys who want a Kmart at Chippewa and Kingshighway and a Walgreens at Grand and Gravois, where the 1929 South Side National Bank tower stands. The Ohio developer plotting a Kmart has made nice with South Side Coalition over the last few months but is planning to fly in experts to support Kmart at Wednesday's 1 p.m. hearing at City Hall. And forces are being marshaled against renovation plans for the SSNB tower. That hearing is set for Aug. 29 at City Hall.