Earlier this week, as he prepared for his first papal visit to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said, “HIV/AIDS is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.” The Catholic Church continues to condemn condoms and promote abstinence as the best way to prevent the transmission of HIV.

The university has historically stood in line with the Vatican on this matter, specifically by banning the sale of condoms in establishments that lease space from the university. As a result, students must travel six blocks to Wisconsin Avenue to purchase condoms.

In light of a new report on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the District, we once again ask the university to reconsider its counterproductive, negligent position on the matter.

On Monday, Mayor Adrian Fenty released the HIV/AIDS report, which found that about 3 percent of residents have HIV or AIDS. The study found a 22 percent increase in cases reported from 2006, and according to the director of D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Administration, the 3-percent estimate is too low.

HIV/AIDS in D.C. has been classified as an epidemic; the rate of infection in the city is higher than in West Africa. That a university located in such proximity to this crisis would ban the sale of condoms by lessee businesses is alarming. HIV/AIDS is not restricted to any neighborhood; though the level in Georgetown’s Ward 2 is the third-lowest in the city, the Hilltop is not exempt from this threat. The university should take steps to protect its students by allowing The Corp’s stores and Wisemiller’s Deli to sell condoms.

As a Catholic institution, Georgetown has a right and a demonstrated commitment to conform to Church doctrine; to say that the university is obligated to furnish its students with condoms while the Church continues to condemn contraception is unreasonable. But by permitting lessee businesses to sell condoms, the university would not condone or directly subsidize condom use – it would allow students to defend themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Nothing can compel the university to end its ban on condom sales; we simply believe that it would be in the community’s best interests to do so.

Condoms are not merely gateways to non-reproductive or casual sex (as some other forms of birth control are). As cheap, trustworthy means to counteract the spread of HIV, they are best characterized as a public health measure, not as a religious matter.

The university has set aside Catholic doctrine in the past. Last year, the LGBTQ Resource Center opened in the Leavey Center with the university’s blessing. The Law Center has funded students pursuing internships at organizations that support abortion rights.

Running a Catholic university in modern times is difficult. But Georgetown doesn’t need to choose between its legitimacy as a Catholic institution and its commitment to protecting its students from harm. As our community’s Catholic identity evolves, the allowance of condom sales by the university’s lessee businesses is long overdue. It’s time for Georgetown to loosen its stubborn devotion to token Catholic principles and take a sensible look at this ongoing public health crisis.

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