File this under “not surprising, but still infuriating”:
Pope Benedict XVI said on his way to Africa Tuesday that condoms were not the answer in the continent’s fight against HIV, his first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients.
The Pope went on to say, “You can’t resolve it (HIV/AIDS) with the distribution of condoms…On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
The full scale of that alarming statement is better understood in this context:
Africa is the one region in the world where Catholicism enjoys healthy growth.
According to Vatican statistics, the number of African Catholics grew by three percent in 2007 — despite competition from evangelical Protestant denominations and Islam — while populations remained stable elsewhere in the world.
In 2006, baptised Catholics made up 17 percent of the African population, compared with 12 percent in 1978.
In other words, don’t count the Pope’s influence out.
This is not the worst statement from a Catholic leader regarding condoms in Africa. One example from 2007:
The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.
Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected “in order to finish quickly the African people”.
In other words, Pope Benedict’s statement is just one part of a long misinformation campaign by the Catholic Church regarding condoms and their ability to prevent the spread of HIV.
Overall this isn’t really new news, of course, except that this latest statement by the Pope is his first on the subject of condoms since assuming the papacy. I doubt anyone was holding out hope that he would break with previous Catholic doctrine on this subject. Nevertheless, this is frightening. Combating HIV/AIDS is an uphill battle, although there have been some successes. But HIV/AIDS organizations already have so many challenges, from worn and underfunded public health infrastructure to the inherent difficulties in changing people’s sexual behavior. When one of the most influential religious leaders in the world comes through with what could only be described as lies (condoms make HIV/AIDS worse?) on the subject, he is perpetuating dangerous ideas that, in the long term, could cost people their lives.
For more information on international HIV prevention strategies that incorporate accurate information about condoms, visit the UK organization Avert.