Pope Bededict’s remark on his first Apostolic Journey to Africa (Cameroon and Angola) that the continent’s fight against HIV/AIDS is a problem that “cannot be solved by the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, it will increase it”, has led to a fierce editorial in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Irrespective of whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or because of a deliberate attempt to exact Catholic ideology, it had led to sharp criticism among several European governments and international health organizations. Now the scientific community condemns disastrous remarks as well, in particular as the Vatican is not withdrawing the devastating message but maneuvers with different versions and interpretations.
Q. – Your Holiness, among the many ills that beset Africa, one of the most pressing is the spread of Aids. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight it is often considered unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this theme during the journey? Holy Father, would you be able to respond in French to this question?
A. – I would say the opposite. I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against Aids is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant’Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick. I would say that this problem of Aids cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behavior], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practice self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so. (Emphasis added.)
Did the Pope talk about condoms or what is meant by prophylactics? Does he weaken his first condemnation of condoms or is he rather worsening the message by referring now to ‘prophylactics’? Difficult to tell, indeed. The script on the web page of the Holy See of his infamous lecture in Regensburg in September 2006 now contains also numerous rectifying footnotes diluting the rude and insulting first remarks on Islam and its Prophet which has led to outrageous reactions in the Muslim world and the death of at least one nun in Somalia.
It is a pity that the 81-year-old Pope, a professor of Catholic Theology with an immense reputation, has proved again and again that he had not effectively changed since the times of Joseph Ratzinger: a merciless exponent of the former Roman Inquisition. As a matter of fact his pontificate has been a series of scandalous speeches, remarks and deeds; a rather recent and especially incomprehensible example being his pardon (later withdrawn upon international pressure) of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.
The Lancet’s condemnation today will not lead to a change in the Vatican’s policies. Life is shed with and without an organization which might vanish in due time anyway.
See also on this blog
Out of Control. Pope Benedict’s scandalous pardon of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.