Pope Benedict: In the Battle Against HIV, Condoms Are Part of the Solution

Marissa Valeri

It is irresponsible, irrational and dangerous for members of the church hierarchy, particularly Pope Benedict, to continue to spread the fallacy that condom use would not help to alleviate the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As the pope traveled to Africa,
the continent most plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he made his first
unequivocal statement opposing condom use. Flying to Cameroon, the pope claimed that the
distribution of condoms would not resolve the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Instead, he
made the obviously flawed assertion that condom use "increases the
problem."

Few Catholics and even fewer medical personnel agree with
his stance. Even members of the church hierarchy disagree.  Several
bishops in Africa, including especially Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg in South Africa,
have consistently spoken out in favor of the use of condoms. And, off the
record, many people who work with Catholic relief agencies have told us of
their efforts to distribute condoms to those at risk of infection.

We know that condoms are not a cure-all for the problem and
condom distribution alone would not, as the pope said, "resolve
it."  On the same token, evidence proves that abstinence-only
education and be faithful programs also would not halt the spread of HIV alone.
However, taking these methods together, the ABC approach has been proven
to be effective to slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  As the best method of
prevention for those infected and sexually active, condoms are a critical part
of this approach. For more on this, please visit www.condoms4life.org.

It is irresponsible, irrational and dangerous for members of
the church hierarchy, particularly Pope Benedict, to continue to spread the
fallacy that condom use would not help to alleviate the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Knowing that they have lost the battle against contraception in the global
North, the church hierarchy has turned its efforts to the global South. 
As seen in the PEPFAR negotiations, the hierarchy is now working to lobby
policymakers against the inclusion of funding for condoms in development aid
programs. The result is to deny those in the global South, in countries like Cameroon
with a prevalence rate of over five percent, the chance of protecting
themselves by using condoms.

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According to a poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice,
which interviewed Catholics in Ghana,
Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines
and the United States,
support for condom use among Catholics is overwhelming. When asked if
"using condoms is prolife because it helps save lives by preventing the spread
of AIDS," 90% of Catholics in Mexico,
86% in Ireland, 79% in the US, 77% in the Philippines
and 59% in Ghana
agreed. Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy’s position holds the most sway in
the countries least able to deal economically and medically with the disease.
The full results of the poll are available at http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/documents/BRSPOLLFINAL1.pdf.

Indeed, Pope Benedict and the church hierarchy are in the
minority with their anti-condom stance; however, the impact of their stance is
far reaching.  Catholic Relief Services – the US bishops’ relief
arm – is one of the top recipients of PEPFAR funding at $103 million,
that’s $20 million more than all of the countries’ local
governments combined received in 2007.  And as CRS is equally committed to
stemming the distribution of condoms, this is just another way that the Catholic
hierarchy is contributing to the persistent unmet need of contraception and
family planning services.

Now is not the time for the pope to be dismissing the
importance of condom use. As he travels to Africa,
he will face the realities of the epidemic. Hopefully as he looks the epidemic
in the eye, he will reverse his position on contraception and in doing so go a
long way towards reducing the future impact HIV/AIDS.

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