Condoms & corruption

February 20, 2011

Woman as Reason

by Terry Moon

The Pope made quite a splash a few months ago with his comments in Peter Seewald’s book Light of the World, where he grudgingly accepted the use of condoms in extremely limited situations: “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.” So ridiculous was the limiting of condom use to male prostitutes, that that language was abandoned. Some AIDS activists reportedly were “thrilled” with the Pope’s comments, while the right wing of the Church reacted with dismay.

Why issue this pusillanimous statement on condoms now? Has the Pope finally understood that to win the struggle against AIDS, activists need every resource available to them, especially condoms, which, despite endless comments from Church spokesmen as well as the Pope, are 80% effective when always used in preventing its spread? Considering that this has been the well-known proven truth for well over two decades, it seems unlikely that the reality of the tragedy of AIDS prompted the Pope’s comments.


Rather, the condemnation of the Church for its inhuman stand against condoms in the struggle against AIDS, along with the latest revelations of the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic clerics in Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, has compelled Pope Benedict XVI to attempt damage control, to try to paint a human face on an inhuman, punitive, sexist, racist and deeply homophobic institution.

The deep hole the Church is in because of its corruption, its legions of pedophile priests, the decades-long cover-up of their activity, and its inhuman position on condoms and AIDS–and for that matter birth control–can be measured by the Pope’s turnaround. In 2000, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he despised an article in the Jesuit weekly America, which revealed the “moral consensus” among Catholic theologians that it was OK to use condoms in the fight against AIDS. When he became Pope in 2005, he helped force the resignation of the editor. In 2009 on his way to Cameroon he opined that condom use “aggravates the problem” of AIDS.


Had the condemnation, ridicule and revolt against his statements only come from outside the Church, he might have felt he could continue his hypocritical ban on condoms while at the same time pontificating about the so-called “culture of life.” But the revolt is also from within, as hundreds of thousands leave the Church in Europe because of pedophile priests and the cover-up that continues to this day. Who can believe it when those in the Church act surprised, or when the Pope says that the abuse scandal reached a “degree we could not have imagined…”? How could they not “imagine” it when the Church was the entity not only covering it up, but enabling it by moving around the abusing clergy instead of removing them and turning them over to secular authority? The Pope has been labeled a “serious global public health problem” and Catholics for Choice started a Condoms4Life campaign against his stance.

Furthermore, those on the ground, especially in Africa, have seen the devastation caused by condemning condom use, making them difficult to obtain, and by demonizing sex workers, most of whom are poor women who work to keep from starving and to feed their children. There has been widespread, albeit quiet, disobedience, with some church workers involved in AIDS work using whatever means are helpful, including condoms.


But that quiet work cannot undo the billions of dollars the Bush Administration threw at the AIDS problem through PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Provision for AIDS Relief), key to which was the insistence that a third of the money be used for abstinence-only education. So desperate were some organizations for funds that they abandoned programs that worked in order to get PEPFAR funding. Billions flowed to hard-line religious organizations who would toe the Bush Administration’s ideological line, but had little knowledge of what to do to stop the spread of AIDS.

The Pope’s comments on condoms are not a cause for celebration, although one can hope that those who actually care about human beings will take his remarks at much more than their face value and run with the idea that condoms make sense, not only as a barrier against disease, but as an effective form of birth control that even the Church can’t accuse of being an abortifacient.


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