Friday, March 27, 2009

No Condoms to Africa? What is the Pope Talking About?

Unfortunately most of the media coverage you see about the Pope's comments in Africa regarding AIDS and condoms has no more depth than this little clip. But before the debate heats up, it's important to read what the Holy Father actually said on the matter. This from the transcript of a press conference en route to Cameroon:
Visseyrias: Holiness, among the many evils that scourge Africa, there is also and in particular that of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight against this is often regarded as unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this topic during the trip? Very Holy Father, would it be possible for you to answer this question in French?

Benedict XVI: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped, the scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this.
Pope Benedict reaffirmed the long-held Catholic understanding of sex as a holistic experience. It is not simply an animalistic search for pleasure any more than it is simply the vehicle of procreation. It is not something casual or disposable, but a sacred union between two persons who are able to commune with one another in a unique way. Scripture tells us that when a married couple comes together they become one flesh. This is a privilege that man has over all the other animals. It is an insult to human dignity to treat sex as animals do.

Much of the push for condoms in Africa is a lack of faith in people. Many do not believe that others can, much less will, change their behaviors. Popular culture tells us that sexual promiscuity is the norm, and it's hard for that culture to let go of the lies about sex it's accepted. But Africa with its AIDS crisis provides for us a gruesome example of the consequences of misunderstanding sex. We must be able to believe that people both can and ought to change their behavior, that they can and ought to abstain from sex outside of marriage and be faithful to their spouse within marriage.

The Pope also emphasized our need to reach out to those suffering, again underlining the humanization of this whole issue. If our brothers and sisters in Africa are suffering greatly--and they are--then it is not enough to toss them a condom and wish them luck. The loving thing to do is to share in their suffering, empathizing with them, and to help guide them to a better, healthier way of life.

Further Reading:
Clarification on Pope's Words on AIDS
Humanae Vitae (A very important Church document addressing contraception)
From Saint Peter's Square to Harvard Square
African AIDS: The Facts that Demolish the Myths

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