The Pompous Case of Pope Benedict XVI

Mar 18, 2009
*Special to asia!
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The pontiff has shown that he is ill-advised to address the world's sex-related problems.

For the record, when asked about the issue of AIDS in Africa, this is what Pope Benedict XVI said:

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."

To “resolve”, by definition, is to find a solution to, and, in medical terms, to heal. In that sense, the Pope was right. Condom use will not cure an AIDS patient, and thinking that it will resolve the epidemic is almost akin to trying to end a flu outbreak with face masks. It is, in other words, not a long-term answer to the fight against AIDS.

So why then have the Pope’s comments provoked such uproar?

It's because they betray his simplistic take on the issue, a position we cannot afford. AIDS is a problem that requires not just a long-term solution; something needs to be done in the near term as well.

In the pontiff's idyllic world of sworn celibacy and fidelity within a monogamous marriage, abstinence can be the key. But for the rest of us living outside the medieval walls of the Vatican, this is a world where people have sex sometimes outside of marriage, sometimes with multiple partners, and sometimes as a form of livelihood. Unlike the pontiff, they have children who are constantly being subject to an early sexual awakening by the media and their surrounding culture.

Could condoms have prevented them from being infected? Perhaps. But without them, these women have no line of defence.

For them, AIDS is a reality, not a boogeyman.

Based on latest UNAIDS estimates, between 30 and 36 million were infected with HIV worldwide as at end-2007, with 2 million new cases reported that year. Two-thirds of the total contracted the virus through heterosexual intercourse. Africa has the highest percentage of people living with HIV in the world, at up to 20%. In Cameroon, where the head of the Catholic Church made his statement, only 25% of all who need retroviral drugs have access to them.

When he denounced condoms as a defence against AIDS, Pope Benedict presumably was speaking not only to the Africans. As the spiritual leader of the 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, he would have been targeting them too.

In response, may it be suggested that the pontiff visit India on his next trip?

Going by government statistics, India has just a 0.2% prevalence rate of HIV. In 2006, it was reported by UNAIDS that the world's second most populous country had 5.6 million HIV cases – more than anywhere else in the world. This number has been disputed, but even the officially accepted range of 2.5-3 million is staggering.

Pope Benedict may like to know that according to a recent government report, unprotected heterosexual sex is the main cause of HIV in India. Most infected are women and a distressing 40% of them are either housewives and/or in monogamous relationships.

Perhaps he would also like to learn that according to studies, between half and two-thirds of Indian men who visit prostitutes are married or those with regular female partners. What would the pontiff offer as advice to wives in such situations? Should these women deny their husbands of sex?

The Pope may like to also consider that other women in the sub-continent, like those in Sri Lanka, work overseas as migrant workers. Alone in a foreign land, they are considered an at-risk group for various reasons. They may find themselves in sexual relations, both forced and consensual, and these could be monogamous or with multiple partners. One study by UNAIDS found that migrant workers deported back to Sri Lanka after being found to be infected with HIV knew nothing about the disease until they got it.

Could condoms have prevented them from being infected? Perhaps. But without them, these women have no line of defence.

From excommunicating doctors for performing an abortion on a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who had been raped and impreganated by her stepfather, to sanctioning the withholding of a viable avenue of prevention against AIDS, the Catholic Church is opening itself to rightful public condemnation.

The Church may be adamant about upholding morals in what is an ever-changing world. That’s a laudable effort, but the Vatican loses its moral high ground when it champions inhumanity in the name of faith and drags God's name through the mud for obstinacy.



dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

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