The Pope’s Condom Condemnation

By Terry Keleher Mar 18, 2009

photo credit: AP It’s one thing for Pope Benedict XVI to have a religious and moral position against condoms. But it’s a whole other thing to assert, as he did yesterday, that the distribution of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa “increases the problem.” The Pope, in his first pilgrimage to Africa, is preaching the message of sexual abstinence as the responsible and moral approach for fighting the disease. Speaking about the spread of HIV during his visit to Cameroon, the Pope said, "You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms." But, unfortunately, the “abstinence only” approach isn’t working. And countless people are dying. Condom distribution is not only critical, but highly responsible and moral. About 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV. That’s two-thirds of all people living with HIV and it’s where three-quarters of all AIDS deaths occur, according to UNAIDS. The Pope’s words factor heavily in Africa, where the Roman Catholic Church is seeing its fastest growth. His influence, affecting national policies and institutional practices, has tragic consequences. This reminds me of the flap surrounding President Obama’s selection of Pastor Rick Warren to lead his inaugural prayer. Though Warren was often hailed as a socially conscious evangelist, the impacts of some of his HIV-related work tell a different story. According to Max Blumenthal at the Daily Beast, “an investigation into Warren’s involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren’s allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent’s most successful initiatives, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is “resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred.” In the face of a ravaging AIDS epidemic, this kind of moral pontification by some of the most influential religious leaders, is indeed morally bankrupt.