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Pope Benedict says "Condoms can increase the problem of Aids"

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William Crawley | 00:47 UK time, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

"HIV/Aids is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem." This was Pope Benedict's message to Africa at the beginning of his papal visit to the continent. 22 million people are infected with the Aids virus in sub-saharan Africa, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of infections worldwide. But Pope Benedict believes condoms can exacerbate the problem by encouraging promiscuity.

This is not the first time the Vatican has questioned the effectiveness of condom distribution as a strategy for combating HIV, but the pope's decision to make this statement while visiting the continent most devastated by the Aids pandemic is sure raise yet another worldwide debate about his judgement. At the very least, many will question his understanding of PR implications of an analysis that flies in the face of the consensus view within medical science. At worst, he will face accusations of moral irresponsibility given the weight of influence his words carry in Africa, where 17 per cent of the population is Catholic.

The Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill has already fired a salvo in his direction: "Pope Benedict XVI has re-opened a running sore in the side of the Church and Africa with another scientifically illiterate attempt to justify a policy that is unjustifiable even by faith."

Ruth ends her piece with a defensive coda: "And before any more readers come out and accuse me of yet another 'Paisleyite' attack on the Church, I haven't got it in for the Roman Catholic Church. This latest episode is proof that the Church has got it in for itself."


  • Comment number 1.

    In the words of Earl Butz, President Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture in referring to the Pope's proclamations about birth control in 1974 he said;

    “he no playa da game, he no make-a da rules.”

    Late-night comedian Johnny Carson made Butz a running gag, calling him Earl “The Pearl” Butz.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's a pity the vatican has no impeachment procedure to get rid of a pope, as far as I know. If it had, then the catholic clergy might have considered sending Ratzinger packing if he keeps up statements like that. An article in the Telegraph said that even some priests and nuns working with people who have contracted HIV in Africa have questioned the logic of the Church's strict no condom policy:


  • Comment number 3.

    These "Pope is a Catholic" stories are just tiresome. I suspect most journalists had the stories written last week and were just waiting for the "so Pope, still against condoms?" question.

    And, yeah, that condom strategy really is working isn't it? Not only is it stopping Aids it's also preventing teenage pregnancies and STDs in the UK.


  • Comment number 4.

    Isn't it nice to know we have a Pope who knows more about controlling epidemics of communicable diseases than our public health officials? Too bad he's already employed. Expertise like his doesn't come along often. I think Tabu Embeke of South Africa shared some of the Pope's views about HIV and AIDS. If we left it to the so called experts, even more would die.

  • Comment number 5.

    In The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 20 March 2009, AIDS: lessons learnt and myths dispelled, P. Piot, M. Kazatchkine, M. Dybul & J. Lob-Levyt (doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60321-4 ), the authors clearly pointed out that (a) prevention programs are effective against HIV infections and (b) changes in sexual behavior have led to decreases in the number of new HIV infections. They concluded that efforts to change behavior do work demonstrably. They also showed that data from western Europe suggested that complacency about AIDS and the sense that the HIV condition is less dangerous has made sustained behavioral changes more challenging. They wrote: "the number of new HIV diagnoses in men who have sex with men doubled in Germany between 2002 and 2006, and increased by more than three-quarters in Switzerland."

    It is indisputable that abstinence and fidelity in marriage are the surest means to arrest the spread of AIDS. Unfortunately, the advocates of condom use knowingly or otherwise suggest that otherwise dangerous sexual behavior is acceptable as long a condom is used. This has the effect of justifying the actions of an HIV positive individual who endangers the health and well being of others. This erodes ethical behavior; encourages multiple sexual partners and will lead to more HIV infections as in the case of homosexuals in Germany and Switzerland cited in the paragraph above, who would have had the option to use condoms if they wanted.

    The condom use may give a false sense of security and could promote dangerous sexual behavior. This false sense of security will encourage the idea that otherwise callous behavior of endangering others is acceptable if done with condoms. Thus, even if condom use is often effective in preventing infection, a very small rate of failure could have a huge impact in spreading HIV gradually to more people. Moreover, in the context promiscuous and licentious living, there are more occasions to choose not to use condoms, once in a while. This could happen easily when one is drunk or emotionally disturbed, with disastrous consequences.

    However, what pope is encouraging is abstinence and faithfulness in marriage, which are morally noble and socially healthy and safe. This encourages true love, moral living, individual responsibility and health of mind, body and family. It is absolutely shameful that someone should use The Lancet to persecute the pope who is promoting behavior that is healthy and safe for the individual and the society. If the author was just ignorant, we could forgive him. However, it is pathetic, if he is doing this to promote promiscuity and licentiousness, at the risk of endangering the lives of millions of people who may be infected if their lives are to be protected only by condoms and not by healthy behavior.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's rather amusing to me that the Pope appears to believe he can dictate how we can live our lives. I would love for he and his Papal cronies to educate us with statements that are backed with scientific fact. Would that not be refreshing?

  • Comment number 7.

    It amuses me that you appear to believe that papal statements are somehow an infringements of your freedom.

    In what way are you forced to do ANYTHING?

    It's not the pope's job to provide scientific statements...that's what scientists are for.


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