About a month ago, Pope Benedict XVI flew to an AIDS stricken region of Africa. During the flight, New Scientist is reporting that he told reporters that AIDS is a “drama that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which in the contrary increase the problem.”
The article then offers scientific arguments as to why the Pope is wrong before making the following statement:
Is the pope from another planet? Is he stupid? Uneducated? No, obviously not. Does he know something we don’t? No. But that might not be so obvious to everyone…
So on what basis is Benedict speaking? Doctrinal consistency. The Catholic Church believes that people must have sex only with their spouses, with no contraceptives, to leave open the chance of procreation. Besides, contraceptives encourage sex outside wedlock by minimising its consequences. So they have to insist that more condoms leads to more illicit sex and more AIDS.
Such medieval thinking is completely detached from the real world….
The sad reality of this report is that the Pope said much more than the soundbite that New Scientist is quoting. Here is the English translation of what Pope Benedict XVI said in context:
It is my belief believe that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions. … The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere 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 worsen the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation 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 the suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to stand by those who suffer.
Given what seems to be a quite reasonable stance on the part of Pope Benedict – that a respect for human life is at the root of the problem – I wonder why news organizations all over the internet (e.g., MSNBC, The Washington Post, the AP, the BBC, and more) seem intent on mis-reporting this story. Given that most of the AIDS cases in Africa come from rape or other sexual abuse, in which a condom is not a reasonable solution, it seems basic to say that no solution other than a change of human heart will have the affect that is needed – which to my reading is what the Pope said.
So what happened? Is it misinterpretation, or intentional obfuscation of what the Pope said? Why would seemingly credible news organizations want to vilify the Pope’s seemingly obvious response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa?
You can read the New Scientist article here, or click on the other news organizations above for their version of events.
A transcipt of what the Pope said can be found in Italian here.