Thursday, March 19, 2009

Letter From the Editor: Vatican Has Its Head Buried in the Sand Over Condoms

Pope Benedict's Declaration That Use of Condoms to Halt the Spread of AIDS Virus and Other Sexually-Transmitted Diseases 'Increases the Problem' Is Backward Thinking That's Dangerously Out of Touch With Reality

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives at the basilica for afternoon ...

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives at the basilica Wednesday for afternoon mass in Yaounde, Cameroon, the first leg of his tour of Africa. The Vatican defended the pontiff's opposition to the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS as activists, doctors and politicians criticized it as unrealistic, unscientific and dangerous. Benedict, continuing the Vatican's longstanding condemnation of condoms, said on Tuesday that their use "increase the problem" of AIDS. (Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, March 19, 2009)


Dear Readers,

It's becoming increasingly obvious by now that whatever Pope Benedict XVI says, controversy is likely to follow him.

Just as he was arriving in Cameroon on the first leg of a papal tour of Africa Tuesday, Benedict said that condoms "increase the problem" of AIDS. The solution to the deadly disease, he said, lies in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer."

In other words, limiting sex to within a marriage between a man and a woman -- and even then, only for the purpose of procreation. That has been, and remains, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that Benedict heads. As far as the church is concerned, you should not engage in sex, period, if you're not married -- and especially if you're not heterosexual.

This teaching is woefully out of touch with the real world -- and, along with its rapid erosion of moral authority in the United States following the priest sex-abuse scandal -- is one of the reasons why the church is in decline in the West.

Not surprisingly, scientists, politicians and AIDS activists immediately blasted the pope's declaration.

"My reaction is that this represents a major step backwards in terms of global health education, is entirely counter-productive, and is likely to lead to increases in HIV infection in Africa and elsewhere," Professor Quentin Sattentau, professor of immunology at Britain's Oxford University, told the Reuters news agency.

"There is a large body of published evidence demonstrating that condom use reduces the risk of acquiring HIV infection, but does not lead to increased sexual activity," Sattentau added.

That's putting it mildly. The church also teaches that the use of condoms leads people to engage in more risky sexual behavior. This is utter nonsense.

Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department, said there is no evidence showing that condom use spurs people to take more sexual risks.

To the contrary, the evidence is overwhelming that using condoms cuts down the likelihood of risky behaviors and reduces the spread of AIDS and other STDs.

Just what planet is the pope coming from, for it certainly isn't 21st-century Earth. The sad truth is, the pontiff has absolutely zero credibility on the subject of preventing the spread of AIDS. Zip, zilch, nada. Benedict's pronouncements are actually dangerous to the cause of protecting the public health.


Benedict's stance drew sharp denunciations from around the world. The latest furor comes just weeks after his reinstatement of a renegade archconservative Roman Catholic bishop who is a Holocaust denier -- a move that has severely damaged relations between the Vatican and the Jewish community.

The pope's condom remarks drew sharp criticism even in his native Germany. "Modern development cooperation must give access to the means for family planning to the poorest of the poor. And the use of condoms is especially part of that," the country's Germany's health and development ministers said in a joint statement.

"Anything else would be irresponsible."

That Benedict would continue his church's condemnation of the use of condoms should surprise no one, for the church has condemned the use of condoms for over 40 years. Long before the rise of the AIDS epidemic, Pope Paul VI condemned condoms as part of his 1968 encyclical that denounced all artificial forms of contraception.

Just weeks after his rise to the pontificate, Benedict in 2005 listed several ways to combat the spread of AIDS, namely abstinence from sex and fidelity in marriage. His predecessor, John Paul II, reaffirmed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical on its 30th anniversary in 1998, making it clear that condoms were not to be used by Catholics for any reason.

This is not the first time that the pope has generated controversy; indeed, this is the latest in a series of controversial statements made by Benedict since his ascension to the throne of St. Peter following John Paul II's death in 2005.

He angered Muslims in 2006 when he delivered a lecture which touched on Islam at the University of Regensburg in Germany. In it, Benedict quoted the 12th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, one of the last Christian rulers before the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire, who wrote: "Show me just what [the Prophet] Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict triggered a deep schism in relations between the Holy See and the Jewish community in January when when he lifted the excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson -- even sparking a rare but forceful public rebuke of the pontiff in his homeland by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But in an act that effectively repudiated a more than century-old Vatican doctrine of papal infallibility, Benedict sent a letter to Catholic bishops in which he admitted to making a mistake, explaining that insufficient checks on Williamson had been made before he was reinstated.

Williamson was one of several bishops who were excommunicated 40 years ago by then-Pope Paul VI for their rejection of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, including the celebration of the Mass in the local language, rather than in Latin.

If Benedict can be human enough to admit to having made a mistake in reinstating Bishop Williamson, then he's human enough to admit that he made a mistake in continuing to oppose the use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS.

But I'm not holding my breath that he will. Rather than admit that he's wrong on the use of condoms to save lives, the pontiff, much like an ostrich, has chosen to bury his head in the sand.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 22
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Perfect10 said...

To fight against the use of condoms is the fight against common sense. To the extent that people already engage in sexual activitices, condoms can hardly be seeen as exascerbating the problem. I think the real issue is to teach responsible sexual behavior. Preaching abstinence is an anachronism that's out of touch with reality. You can find more of this perspective at: