Pope Benedict: "Condoms cannot overcome AIDS"

There has, predictably enough, been no shortage of press coverage of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks about condom distribution in Africa.

Part of his press briefing is reasonable enough: AIDS, he said, ‘is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms…’. However, he went on to add ‘… which even aggravates the problems’ – and that’s the aspect which is leading to accusations that he is flying in the face of reason.

His argument, if third party commentators are to be believed, runs like this:

– condoms increase promiscuity;
– promiscuity increases the spread of AIDS;
– promiscuity and AIDS are best reduced through strong social institutions, particularly marriage and fidelity…

There are three fatal problems with this analysis:

1 – the prevailing scientific view, rationally enough, is that promiscuity with barrier contraception such as condoms does not contribute to the spread of AIDS;

2 – in the African context in which His Holiness was speaking, marriage and fidelity are not reinforced by the other strong social institutions the Pope seems to feel he can rely on in his reasoning;

3 – Only 17% of the Pope’s African audience is Catholic. Leaving aside whether his statements represent the best pastoral care for them, is His Holiness really entitled to advocate policies which put the other 83% at greater risk?

Here are a couple of articles which give more background and links:

William Crawley on the BBC site.

Ruth Gledhill
in the Times.

Archbishops ‘dismayed’ at Pope’s message.

And here is the Avaaz petition urging Pope Benedict to reconsider.


2 thoughts on “Pope Benedict: "Condoms cannot overcome AIDS"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Have you read the research results by Harvard University on this matter? Dr Edward Green, head of the AIDS research team came out in support of the Pope. He calls himself a “liberal” and is not Catholic.

  2. Robin Wilton says:

    I have not – though if you have a link to it I would be interested to read Dr Green's results and conclusions. However, I did find an interview with him on the Catholic News Agency site, and in a couple of instances it supported the thesis I put forward above. Specifically, Dr Green noted that a major factor in reducing the effectiveness of condom promotion (NB 'promotion' as distinct from 'use') was the simple fact that it was externally advocated. He cites Uganda as a counter-example, where advice to counter the spread of AIDS was more effective because it came from Uganda's own policymakers and was therefore designed in accordance with the country's own societal norms. that seems to be a principle which the Pope's intervention flouts.He also advances an interesting line of argument: – "most Africans are conservative when if comes to sexual behavior";- "Africans are very religous by global standards";- 'imposing' Western liberal attitudes (by distributing condoms to the beat of Rock & Roll from a truck) is offensive to them.Don't get me wrong – I agree with Dr Green's assertion that 'behaviour change' is a more reliable long-term solution if it can be brought about. After all, as my biology teacher used to say, there's only one effective method of contraception, and that is chastity. The CNA interview did not convince me that the effective use of condoms is a retrograde step, but it did raise questions about whether their effective use can be successfully put into practice and reliably measured.

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