Editorial - Our Father in Heaven and the condom cartoon

There has been an uproar since last month’s issue, when the Teacher ran a cartoon featuring a bishop holding his hands up and saying: “Our Father in Heaven. Thy condom has come.”

Educators expressed disappointment and some have threatened to discard this newspaper the next time it arrives at their school.

We have received a number of letters and calls from people asking how we could publish such a cartoon.

While concerned by the negative reaction, we are pleased to hear from readers, who are very dear to us. The cartoon has sparked off debate in schools and staffrooms throughout the country, and it is only fair to comment.

The cartoon was drawn in response to Bishop Kevin Dowling’s decision to support the use of condoms in defiance of the Catholic church’s ban on their use, except in the case of married couples.

“It was in no way aimed at denigrating the Lord’s Prayer,” said editor Edwin Naidu. “The newspaper respects Christianity, as it does all religious faiths in the country, and no slight was intended.”

Cartoonist Nanda Soobben said the cartoon reflects Dowling’s stand on condom use and merely conveyed the churchman’s message. “Fighting Aids, which many churches are doing, is as important as religion itself,” Soobben said.

This is the reason why we published the cartoon: The impact of HIV/Aids on the country is alarming. There are an estimated four million sufferers in South Africa and many people are dying from HIV/Aids every day. The churchman depicted in the cartoon was a reference to Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling, who in July urged that condoms be used to combat the spread of HIV/Aids.

His views clashed with church policy that sexual intercourse should take place only within the confines of marriage. The church does not support the use of condoms, except by married couples.

Simply put, the cartoon was a reflection of the newspaper articles relating to Dowling. Several publications supported his views, just as we do. After all, condom use reduces - although it does not eradicate - the threat of infection.

The cartoon was not a slur on Christianity. Considered against the backdrop of the seriousness of the HIV/Aids problem, the cartoon accurately reflected the sentiments of Dowling.

However, the omission of the bishop’s name from the cartoon has created the impression that this newspaper is anti-Christian.

Such an allegation is completely untrue. Since October last year we have carried inserts, Celebrating Difference, in which issues such as race and religion are dealt with in a manner that made these articles essential classroom tools.

In July we reported on the Department of Education’s new plans for schools with regard to religion, and then invited readers to voice their opinions on the subject.

This newspaper does not favour any religion over another. We believe that all religious groups in the country have a right to practise their faiths without restrictions.

It is unfortunate that educators reacted angrily to the use of our cartoon as it was not a slur on Christianity but a genuine attempt to portray Dowling’s daring decision.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, October 2001.