Pope Benedict XVI and condoms, yes, but…

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Is the Catholic Church changing its discourse on the use of condoms as a means to fight against HIV-AIDS? Pope Benedict XVI’s book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, a series of interview, was officially unveiled at the Vatican on Tuesday.

Pope Benedict XVI favors condom use in exceptional cases. The Church “of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality” the Holy Father said in a book-interview given to German journalist Peter Seewald. Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, by Bayard publishers, was launched in English on Tuesday and will be available in French on Friday, 26 November.

But, the Catholic Church does not regard condoms as a panacea to combat the dreadful disease. The Pope believes that “sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality” and recommends its use in certain cases, particularly that of the male prostitute, and not a female prostitute as indicated in the first Italian translation of the Pope’s interview, which is being corrected and reprinted. “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality,” the Pope tells Peter Seewald.

Condoms but

More light is thrown on the Pope’s recent position by French epidemiologist Rene Ecochard. A few months ago Rene appended his name to a letter of support following the Pope’s controversial remarks on condom use during his trip to Cameroon. It is only effective “four times out of five. Which is enough when AIDS cases are rare. But in a country where 25% of the youth aged 25 are affected (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia), it is not enough. The impasse and failure of this form of prevention is an epidemiological reality. “Of the four countries”, the scientist continues, “Uganda is the only country where the number of patients was cut by a third… And in addition to its condom campaign, the east African country embarked on a three-pronged ABC HIV-AIDS prevention campaign (Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom if A and B fail), (the same method evoked by Benedict XVI in his book, ed.) […] This perhaps will not be easy to replicate in other countries, but it is our only hope today.”

Cameroonian psychologist Theodore Kommegne, who works with HIV positive children, had also criticized Benedict XVI’s remarks. “I don’t think that human sexuality will change after the Pope’s remarks,” he told Afrik-News.com in 2009. “I have noted that in his thought process as God’s representative on Earth, Benedict XVI is committed to first saving Saint Peter’s legacy, that is the Church, before thinking about saving and protecting the Lord’s flock.” The psychologist acknowledged, however, whilst following in the same philosophy as the Pope’s recent interview, that “the best way to fight against AIDS is a multi-axial cultural approach that focuses on changing sexual behavior, including condom use, and especially the promotion of sex education within school, family, religious, and social settings.”

Abstinence and faithfulness

“Abstinence is not a prevention tool per se as it is only a partial or total suppression of sexual relations. Besides, in tradition based societies, like Africa, where men are, usually, to be obeyed and not expected to be accountable to their wives, suggesting faithfulness as an alternative to condom use is condemning millions of women to death, especially in countries where getting access to treatments can be very harsh,” A health professional at the Global Fund in Geneva, had commented under anonymity after the Pope’s 2009 comments.

Indeed, the February 14, 2009 edition of the economist had highlighted a research from the University of Washington which suggested “that teens who receive comprehensive sex education have a 50% lower risk (of getting infected by the HIV virus) than those enrolled in abstinence-only courses. Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, on his part said that the Pope’s 2009 remarks was “a myopic view of sexuality and a nonsense-based approach to public health.

Meeting Sunday at the Vatican, where the Pope named new princes of the Church, several African leaders of the Catholic Church hope that the Pope’s interview is not seen as an encouragement to sexual promiscuity in Africa. Nonetheless, the Church’s position is viewed as criminal by many activists, particularly on the African continent, the hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. In 2009, over 29 million Africans were living with HIV, accounting for 63% of the world infection rate. 14% of all Africans are baptized Catholics.

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