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What Papa Said

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On his trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI commented that condoms do not help decrease the spread of AIDS, but rather, increases the spread.  He has come under a lot of fire for that comment.  Let’s look at what he said…

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms…On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

The basic argument against the Holy Father is that how can you possibly say that something that is scientifically proven to slow or stop the spread of AIDS increases the problem?  Fair question.

The pope was not making a scientific statement about the efficacy of condoms.  His role in the world is not to comment on the scientific validity of anything.  His job is to comment and teach in matters related to faith and morals.  Almost everything thing that comes out of his mouth must be understood in that context, so when the pope says that condoms do not help the AIDS epidemic and that they in fact make it worse, you need to understand that comment in the context of a teaching on faith and morals.

The Catholic Church has always taught the contraception (contra-conception) is always wrong.  (For the purposes of this post, I am going focus this comment on Africa, rather than attempting to take on the whole spectrum of contraception and relationships.)  The sexual act is a sacred and special thing.  It is a union that brings forth life and it must be given the same respect as life itself.  To think that you can stop the spread of AIDS without recognizing the gravity and fundamental nature of the sexual act that spreads AIDS is delusional. 

It is like giving people guns and telling them to be careful.  Then, after someone is shot and dies you give everyone body armor. 

Distribution more condoms will not stop the spread of AIDS.  It will send the message the behavior that spreads AIDS is acceptable.  ‘Don’t worry!  We’ve got your back! Go nuts!’.  Notice I say ‘spreads’ AIDS.  A monogamous relationship will not spread AIDS any further than that relationship.  And a relationship that is monogamous from the start and is exclusive between the couple will never introduce an infection because of the life giving act. 

It is very unfortunate that the first reaction to a message that people do not agree with is to make derogatory statements about both the person and the message.  Most everyone would accrue much more respect and understanding if they simply stopped, for however brief a moment, and consider the entirety of what is said. 

The most interesting thing about this controversy is the fact that it is very difficult to put your hands on the entire quote.  After much digging, I finally found it.  Here it is:

“It is my belief that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is precisely the Catholic Church and her institutions. I think of the Community of Sant’ Egidio, which does so much, visibly and invisibly to fight AIDS, of the Camillians, of all the nuns that are at the service of the sick.

“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.

“Therefore, I would say that our double effort is to renew the human person internally, to give spiritual and human strength to a way of behaving that is just towards our own body and the other person’s body; and this capacity of suffering with those who suffer, to remain present in trying situations.

“I believe that this is the first response [to AIDS] and that this is what the Church does, and thus, she offers a great and important contribution. And we are grateful to those that do this.”

Now do you see what I mean by context?  Was this a scientific statement, or a moral statement?

What the statement is saying is that if people do not help each other overcome the AIDS epidemic, then passing out condoms will not do any good.  In fact, if you make condom distribution the front line, you are going to make the problem worse because you are not teaching people to act in a way that shows love.    

Please remember this post the next time you feel the need to react without thought and research.

And so it goes.

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One response »

  1. Your Brother-In-Law

    Sean, I’m going to throw a couple of wrenches your way. Heads Up!

    So in the Army they tell us that there is often a fundamental difference between what we say and what people hear. If we don’t care what people hear, we are encouraged to continue speaking without regard to the listener. On the contrary, if having our audience understand us is important, then we must adapt our language to accommodate the ears of the intended. Basically, if we speak right, there is no need to explain context. The failure of a person to understand what we say is our responsibility. Just a thought.

    Additionally, there are several issues at play in the tragedy that is Africa, in the tragedy that is (in my not so humble opinion)the Catholic and other Christian churches’ response, and the future which may or may not exist for Africans. The major failing, as I see it, in the Church’s response, is that it fails to recognize the sex drive as a fundamentally animal and, therefore, human, drive. Left to their own devices, humans screw for a variety of reasons, the least of which in the heat of the moment is to honor a sacrament. They do it for fun, because they’re bored, to make kids. Sting and Trudy do it to achieve enlightenment. Go figure. In addressing the AIDS issue as a spiritual crisis rather than a human one, the message misses out on the bulk of the population. The people who can understand it are already benefiting from their monogamy. The remainder are still screwing to their heart’s content and didn’t understand. And still dying.

    Now,knowing the very, very simple math that a) condom use blocks the HIV virus transmission and that b)people with HIV are still going to have sex because they are horny, perhaps c) we should spread the use of condoms to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. We know that it works: the gay community is a testament to the condom’s efficacy. You would think the Church would rejoice in this: Yeah! Fewer sick people! Instead it’s bummed because gay people are having sex.

    What I am ultimately led to believe is that the Church would rather people contract HIV/AIDS than block the transmission of a fluid. Because in practical terms, the argument is effectively reduced to that – what else would make sense? To deny the human nature of the sex drive is naive, as is the expectation that humans are going to behave better than they do, and yet this is exactly what the Church does.

    You know I’m a pragmatist. I want what works. I love idealism with traction, with dirt under its finger nails. I’m increasingly an intolerant anti-fundamentalist, as I see fervent belief as perhaps the root cause of our world’s conflicts and suffering. I’m also a Buddhist, which means essentially, I’m a humanist. I support dialogue as the cure for our collective ails. As a soldier though, I recognize that at a certain point human suffering which must be brought down by any means necessary.

    As such, I don’t want theology when the world is collapsing in misery, I want results. When Europe was engulfed in the Bubonic Plague, the Church spent its time discussing how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin. Who cares!! People are dying!!

    On a side note. . . someone gave the advice to a buddy who was about to be married, “You can either be happy or you can be right. You don’t get to be both.” I think there is something to this. We have to make a decision about whether or not we want to do what we may or may not think is the right thing or whether we want to live with the blood of millions on our hands. Which is the greater sin?

    There is more to this, as there always is, but it is late and my eyes are heavy. Big love to you S.

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