Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world on Tuesday, March 17, when he told a French reporter, in answer to a question about the Catholic Church's position on fighting the spread of AIDS by using condoms,
I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.
No sooner had he articulated this fact than the Vatican press office decided that he really did not say what he did say, but rather said something else. The Vatican backtracked by editing the pope's comments by replacing the phrase "we risk worsening the problem" with "we risk aggravating the problems."
That's one version of what the media is saying the Vatican press office did in an effort to literally put words in the mouth of the Holy Father, or in this case, take them out. But whatever Father Lombardi and the press office thought it was doing, the heat on the Church for opposing condoms in the treatment of AIDS has definitely not ceased. It's getting hotter by the minute.
On Monday, the President of the World Health Assembly, Guyana Health Minister Lesie Ramsammy
described the pope's stand as "absolutely and unequivocally wrong" and "inconsistent with science."
He warned that the pontiff was "sowing confusion" and trying to hinder strategies that had been proven correct in the fight against the disease.
Asked by reporters in Maputo on Monday for his reaction to the pope's claim, Garrido stressed that condoms remain part of the government's strategy to reduce the level of HIV infection in Mozambique.
"I don't know in what context the pope said this, but we in the Mozambican government live in the real world, not the world we would like to live in," said Garrido. "In the real world, we know that people have sexual relations with more than one partner."
And yesterday the editorial in the New Zealand Post entitled "The Flat Earth Church" argued that
Condoms inhibit the spread of AIDS. Normalizing their use is in everyone's interests. It is irresponsible of the pope to argue otherwise.
But the church's opposition to most forms of birth control does even more harm than that. The planet is overpopulated. There is not enough food to feed those who already live on it and, in our attempts to feed and clothe ourselves, not to mention fill our homes with flat-screen televisions and other luxuries, we are devouring scarce resources. Human activity is also contributing to global warming.
The planet needs fewer, not more, people. Given that so many Catholic priests have been unable to adhere to their own vows of celibacy, it is nonsensical for the church to argue that abstinence will protect the rest of the population.
My goodness, how those anti-Catholic writers do rant when a kernel of truth is shared with a suffering people, which is exactly what the pope was doing in his comments. Contrary to what those in media la-la land want to tell us, the planet is not overpopulated, condoms do not prevent the spread of AIDS and the Creator of the planet does not need an editorial board to assist him in carrying out His master plan for mankind.
On the subject of AIDS and condoms, Harvard University's director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project, Edward C. Green, commended the pope, reports Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online
"The pope is correct," Green told National Review Online Wednesday, "or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope's comments. He stresses that "condoms have been proven to not be effective at the 'level of population.'"
"There is," Green adds, "a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded 'Demographic Health Surveys,' between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction 'technology' such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by 'compensating' or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology."
Father Vincent Twomey, writing in the Irish Times, applauded the pope,
[W]e Europeans are prone to simplistic technical solutions for humanly complex problems, indeed tragedies. We fall for trite slogans such as "Condoms help reduce AIDS." As a result, the church is attacked as though it were guilty of the deaths of millions in Africa.
The facts teach us otherwise. The percentage of non-Catholics in non-Islamic Africa is about 80 per cent. Irrespective of what the church preaches, it would not be heard by them. Likewise, it is unlikely that those Catholics who ignore the church's teaching by having multiple sexual partners – one of the main ways of contracting HIV – would listen to the church, even if it were to endorse condoms, which it won't.
The millions of condoms flung at Africans for a quarter of a century have increased not reduced the rate of infection…."
Dallas Morning News published a commentary by Mark Davis, who is not Catholic and does not agree with Catholic teaching on contraception. But Davis admires consistency and writes
"What a paper-thin sham Catholicism would be if the pope were to cave and conclude: 'You know those centuries we've spent teaching against anything that obstructs the sacred method by which life is created? Well, we've thought about it, and because millions are engaging in behavior that spreads a fatal disease, we've decided to shelve that basic belief and instruct people' to do something we've considered a moral abomination pretty well forever."
"Anyone repelled by a pope who refuses to buckle this way should remember that no one is forced to be Catholic. If this bar is too high, there's the door. But if Catholicism has withstood anything, it's expectations that doctrine should bend to public will. …
In a world where morality shifts with the seasons and almost any absolute is corruptible by public whim, constant aspiration to a worthy standard should be valued, not mocked."
Clearly there is a clash of values between those who will bend to the hedonism of the current age and those, like Pope Benedict XVI and the magisterium of the Catholic Church, who love the truth and realize that the road less travelled is the best way to go. On the one hand we observe suffering, death, and hatred while on the other hand we observe charity, morality and hope. Which one would you choose?