Letters: Church and condoms

'Moral nuancing' may help Catholic Church to sanction condoms
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Sir: In his article "Is Pope poised to sanction condoms?" (3 May) Peter Popham writes: "But moral nuancing has a long and noble tradition within the church." It certainly has. In my lifetime the Catholic Church has twice "nuanced" its "Moral Law" doctrines in the face of massive disobedience by the faithful.

For the first half of the 20th century - particularly in response to the civilian and military sufferings of the two world wars - there was an increasingly angry insistence by Catholic doctors and nurses to administer life-shortening doses of morphine to alleviate the suffering of those already dying in agony. This was in open defiance of the cruel papal insistence that this was no different than euthanasia. Eventually Pope Pius XII got the point and "nuanced" the teaching to permit such therapy even if it shortened an already expiring life.

Similarly, when Pope Paul VI issued his famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae condemning all contraception, but especially the Pill, he included this telling paragraph: "On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from - provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever."

Within a very short time, millions of Catholic women discovered that hitherto untreatable hormonal problems associated with their menstrual cycle could be treated by the Pill. The nuancing necessary for the use of condoms in Aids prevention requires only the subtle extension of that exception to appear to have always meant "those therapeutic means necessary to cure or prevent bodily diseases" and the theological problem will be solved.

Peter Popham also remarks: "But some Vatican insiders believe the main obstacle to change was John Paul II." This has been apparent for a long time. I hope the rush to canonise a man personally responsible for the agonising deaths of millions of innocent spouses and children will be placed on an ever-cooling back burner.



Timing of elections causes voter apathy

Sir: Your coverage of this week's local elections (5 May) demonstrates that the elections are heavily influenced by issues of current national political significance.

You also remind us that the average turnout in May 2002 was 32.8 per cent, and in 2003 35.6 percent. These figures demonstrate a disturbing lack of participation in the democratic process, which is said to be of concern to politicians of all parties. Yet one reason must surely be the arcane pattern of local elections, graphically illustrated by your map ("The battlegrounds", 4 May). Whenever there are local elections, the media coverage is sustained and national, although a large proportion of the electorate will not be involved so, tantalisingly, can only be spectators. Nor is there any very obvious and easy way of knowing which local authorities are involved. Why, for example, is Bassetlaw the only district council in Nottinghamshire involved this time?

In fact, the local elector is only sure that he or she is supposed to vote if they receive a voting card. Surely there could be a clearer, more easily understood system. We should sit up and take notice if local elections always concerned all of us.



Sir: Voter turnout is low: I suggest changing polling day to Sunday, and hiring attractive buildings in main streets. I was nearly late for work by the time I had tracked down my polling station, situated in a dingy shed up a back alley behind a grotty housing estate.



The rise of the left in South America

Sir: Your Big Question on 4 May asks: "Should we be worried by the rise of the populist left in South America?" Why the lazy assumption that your readers would necessarily be hostile to the fact of native populations taking control of their natural assets at the expense of foreign multinationals? Why should "we", in fact, not be elated that some global political leaders have the guts to spurn the putrid administration of George W Bush?

David Usborne's piece is shot through with normative language which betrays his partiality on this issue. Thus the democratically elected Chavez "panders" to supporters (imagine a politician doing what he was elected to do!), while other leaders take "more pragmatic" - ie more conservative - policy options.

Usborne concludes by wailing that "Washington now finds itself largely powerless to halt the shift to the left in these countries". Gosh I hope so, though I believe Usborne may be too optimistic. Washington has nobbled many a democratically elected administration in the cause of its narrow economic self-interest and will doubtless do so again. See Noam Chomsky et al for the gory details.



Sir: David Usborne states that in Venezuela the "poverty numbers are as bad as ever". Measuring poverty in relation to a person's income is largely pointless as it tells us nothing about his standard of living. During the past six years one million additional Venezuelan children have been brought into the educational system, 657 new schools have been built and 36,000 additional teachers hired. Health programmes, with the help of 13,000 Cuban doctors, have targeted 17 million Venezuelans; 1.2 million people who had been denied health care under the previous regime have been treated in health centres.

By any sensible measure, this surely equates to a massive improvement in living standards and goes some way towards explaining the popularity of the government.



Why salad leaves are good for Kenya

Sir: Members of The Fresh Prepared Salads Producer Group would like to correct the claim on your front page of 29 April that 50 litres of water are required to produce a salad pack of rocket. In the case of the 50g pack of wild rocket grown in Kenya shown in your photo, the leaves in question, at this time of year, received no more than one litre of irrigation water per pack.

Salad leaves in general compare very favourably with other mainstay crops. Assuming little or no rain, to grow a 100g serving of peas in Kenya requires 54 litres of water, compared to 12 litres per 100g of salad.

More importantly, the water used to grow crops by Agrifresh Kenya for Vitacress Salads is from a sustainable ground source. The company does not exploit surface (river) water. Agrifresh Kenya has been instrumental in forming and driving the development of the Ngushishi Water Association which regulates the abstraction of water in their region, ensuring high-value export crops do not prejudice local community requirements for crops, livestock and domestic consumption. It employs up to 2,000 staff - average dependency rates suggest the company supports over 10,000 local people.

With regards to the situation in Spain, the south and south east regions have a long heritage of growing salad crops for the UK. What has changed in recent years is the massive development of tourism in the growing regions, including the opening of a large number of golf courses. The need to service tourism as well as agriculture puts pressure on water supply. We would argue that agriculture is a much better use of a scarce resource. We farm high value crops and are therefore able to invest in efficient water irrigation systems.

During the UK salad season, which runs until October, all but a tiny proportion of salad leaves used for bags will be home grown.

Lastly, one should remember that water used to grow fresh produce is being used to grow crops proven essential to the health of the nation.



Housing need not destroy birds' homes

Sir: A solution to south-east England's housing crisis is urgently needed. However, any suggestion that this should undermine the law that protects important wildlife sites is completely unacceptable (report, 2 May).

English Nature is right to stand up for heathlands and has suggested a practical way forward - the provision of new public space to accompany development - that could allow more houses and yet protect wonderful heaths. Too many of these fantastically beautiful places have been destroyed already.

In fact, the Government should be giving more attention to meeting its targets for heathland re-creation - we need more of this wonderful and rare habitat. So why not start by instructing the Forestry Commission to push ahead faster with a radical programme of removing dark and uneconomic conifer plantations from those places which once were, and could be again, vibrant heaths?



Miracles, on the NHS

Sir: My experiences at the birth of our twins three years ago were remarkably similar to Alex James's as reported in his column (3 May). Our twins were also two months early, requiring an alarming stay in the special-care baby unit. Like Alex, all I read about the NHS is how bad it is when I found them to be absolutely brilliant. And absolutely free. A bloody miracle indeed.



Animal suffering

Sir: In listing "cruelty to animals" under "imprisonable offences" (4 May) you seem to imply that such an offence is negligible and not viable as a custodial offence. Worth noting in this regard are the words of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham: "The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?"



Size matters

Sir: Your correspondent (3 May) describes Bolivia as a "tiny, landlocked country". Landlocked, yes, but tiny? Bolivia has an area of 1,331,661sq km. By comparison, the UK is only 244,022sq km.



Cleavage at school

Sir: One has to ask why the teacher whose cleavage was photographed by a pupil was so unsuitably dressed for teaching a class of teenagers (report, 4 May). Has she no imagination or common sense?



Krakatoa and the bomb

Sir: Sanjida O'Connell writes that "the force of the [1883 Krakatoa] blast was some 10,000 times greater than that of the hydrogen bomb dropped on Hiroshima." But no bomb used in 1945 contained hydrogen fuel: the Hiroshima and Nagasaki devices were powered by uranium and plutonium, respectively.




Greener than thou

Sir: Virtually every Anglican church has a large area of perfectly orientated roof. Why not replace the covering with photovoltaic panels, take advantage of the Microgeneration Bill, set up a permanent revenue stream and help save the planet to boot?



A healthy response

Sir: There are more knee-jerks than you can shake a stick at in the paper these days ("Embattled Clarke accused over 'knee-jerk' response", 4 May). Given that a knee-jerk is actually a sign of good health, perhaps we need a more appropriate cliché?