Pope Benedict Sparks Condom Debate Ahead of World AIDS Day

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On the heels of World AIDS day, Pope Benedict XVI has called for prayers and organized efforts to help comfort those afflicted with the disease. In his weekly Sunday blessing he said the Catholic Church was at the forefront of the fight against AIDS, dedicating its caregivers and hospitals to the crisis. However, Benedict's opposition to condom distribution has drawn the ire of many who see it as an essential tool in combating its spread. Here's what columnists, AIDS workers and development experts are saying:

  • Pope Needs to Wake Up, writes James Carrol at The Daily Beast: "Church leaders assert that condoms give people a false sense of security, which leads them to have more sex, thereby increasing their chances of infection. All of this ignores what has become an international scientific consensus—that prevention is the key to stemming the epidemic, and condoms properly and consistently used are an essential part of prevention. 'Properly and consistently used' is the operative phrase there, of course, and that assumes widespread programs of sex education, which are also inhibited by the Catholic hierarchy’s preference for the 'just say no' abstinence approach."
  • Benedict Is Actually Correct, concedes Edward C. Green, director of Harvard AIDS Prevention Research Project: "This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but... there's no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the 'level of population.' This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population."
  • Who Is the Church Kidding? asks Christopher Brauchli at The Huffington Post: "Long before AIDS had become a prominent member of society, the Pope and his predecessors opposed any means of artificial contraception. Once AIDS made its appearance, the Senior Vatican officials adopted the position that the most effective way of preventing the spread of AIDS, aside from remaining faithful to one's partner, was avoiding sex. Although the thousands of sexual abuse suits that have been brought against the Church and settled, conclusively prove that avoiding sex is easier said than done, the Vatican Officials are undeterred. The Church remains firmly opposed to condoms while nonetheless proclaiming itself a leader in the fight against AIDS."
  • Condom Programs Fail in Africa, insists Giuseppe Caramazza in The Guardian: "The condom might work in Europe; perhaps it does in Latin America. It certainly does not in Africa. Those countries that have chosen to popularise use of the condom – like many nations in southern Africa – are now fast changing policies. Those countries that have given emphasis to late start of sexual activity, abstention and faithfulness in relationships have seen a dramatic fall in the rate of new cases. According to UNAids, in Botswana 24% of the adult population is infected by the HIV virus, in South Africa 18%. In Uganda, after a two-decade campaign stressing the importance of abstinence and faithfulness, the figure is under 7% – a fact noticed by various international agencies, which are now quietly modifying their targets."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.