Southern Religion

The Lancet asks: ‘Redemption for the Pope?’

The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, calls for Pope Benedict XVI to retract his science-distorting statement that condoms may “increase” the HIV/AIDS problem.

Concluding, it said [registration required]:

Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear. But the comment still stands and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward. When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.

The unusually strong position indicates how badly the post-facto attempt to rewrite the Pope’s statement backfired, and how attempts to generate a scientific argument in his favor have failed.


Dr. Kalpana Sabapathy, HIV advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) explains the medical value of condoms:

Condoms are the key to safe sex. They not only prevent HIV, but many sexually transmitted infections. And they prevent unwanted pregnancies. Sexual intercourse is a reality of the human condition. Promoting ONLY abstinence to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a naïve and unrealistic approach. A more attainable goal is to ensure that people behave in a safe way.


Pharyngula applauds, of course.


March 27, 2009 Posted by | Health, Medical Care, Religion, Science | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Lancet asks: ‘Redemption for the Pope?’

Italians reject Pope’s dismissive view of condoms as AIDS preventive

A majority of Italians disagreed with the Pope’s stand against using condoms to prevent AIDS, revealed a poll published in the newspaper La Repubblica:

The poll said that 52.3 per cent were “absolutely against” the Pope’s view – which overshadowed his trip to Africa last week – that condoms are not the answer to the Aids epidemic and on the contrary only “aggravate” it by encouraging sexual promiscuity. A further 21.2 per cent in the poll, conducted by Demos & Pi, said they were “fairly” opposed to the Pope’s position, making a total of 73.5 per cent.

News of this poll of nearly 1,700 Italians questioned in the six days immediately following the pope’s airborne remarks comes on the heels of two polls finding that the French are losing confidence in the Pope, possibly for similar reasons.

Neither post-facto revision of the Pope’s remarks nor any Italian equivalent of conservative pushback against scientific and medical criticism of the Pope’s stand were enough to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor. Italians have no trouble balancing such practical concerns with their religion, according to the London Times:

Ilvo Diamanti, a leading sociologist, said that Italians generally looked to the Catholic Church as a “moral compass”, especially in “difficult times.” This was not the case however when positions taken by the Church or the Vatican were seen as “different from the common consensus or the practical experiences of daily life”

The Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire criticized the French government for “presuming” to lecture Pope Benedict XVI on AIDS and condoms, and the Archbishop of Genoa railed that the pontiff had been unjustly “mocked and insulted” on the same issue by critics. All without distracting most of the Italian people from applying sound, practical judgment to a life and death issue of daily life.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Medical Care, Religion, Science | , , , , | 3 Comments

French Catholics want church abortion/contraception policy changed

More than 80% of French Catholics want church policy on abortion/contraception changed, according to a poll published Sunday by France’s Le Journal du Dimanche

Conducted by telephone on Thursday and Friday, after Pope Benedict XVI set off a firestorm of protest by denying the usefulness of condoms in preventing AIDS infection, the poll of a national sample of 620 Catholics also found almost half believe Benedict does a bad job defending Catholicism. A separate poll for Le Parisien found that 57 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Benedict.

An after-the-fact rewrite of the Pope’s condom comments for the official record did not add to his stature. Although the change did effectively concede that the weight of expert and general public opinion is not with him.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Medical Care, Religion, Science | , , , , | Comments Off on French Catholics want church abortion/contraception policy changed

Holy Re-Seeing

How did we miss the Vatican’s Wednesday condom backtrack? The London Times reported:

Emblem of the Papacy

On Tuesday he told reporters accompanying him on his trip to Africa that AIDS was a “tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”. Taken aback by outrage worldwide, the Holy See altered the Pope’s remark yesterday to read that condoms merely “risked” aggravating the problem.

This is not the first time the Vatican has put words in Pope Benedict XVI’s mouth. Backtracking followed in 2007 when the pope suggested that Mexican officials who supported legalization of abortion had been excommunicated. Reinterpretations were offered and the final transcript was altered to make it appear that the Pope’s comments were general and did not refer to a specific incident.

“Clarification” or apology following some provocation of public anger has become something of a pattern for Pope Benedict XVI, no doubt contributing to the Pope’s decline in French public opinion poll numbers.

In this case, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, found the Papal revisionism hopeful. He said:

The pope has admitted that he is unsure whether condoms can help alleviate the spread of HIV. Where there is doubt there is freedom and Catholics can make up their own minds whether they use condoms or not. . . . We call on the pope to revisit the teaching on condoms with a view to lifting the ban at the earliest possible moment. In his review, he should include experts who are unequivocal that condoms can help prevent the spread of HIV, like UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations around the world.

O’Brien also observed that the Catholic Church required “359 years to stop continuing the line taken by their predecessors on Galileo.”

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion, Science | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rick Warren and the Pope differ over condoms

From Steve Waldman we learned that the Saddleback Church Web site says, “We can’t prevent many other diseases that plague mankind, but we know how abstinence, monogamy, and condoms can go a long way toward stopping HIV in its tracks.”

Pope Benedict XVI and Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren agree that AIDS requires abstinence, but Warren adds S.L.O.W.:

Supply condoms and eventually microbicides for everyone. The correct and consistent use of condoms may prevent HIV infection. But condoms will never stop the pandemic. In many places, getting condoms is nearly impossible. And even when a person has a condom and uses it properly, there still is a chance the condom will fail. Likewise, microbicides – which researchers hope will enable women to protect themselves – will only reduce risk, not eliminate it; the development of effective microbicides is still years away.

Limit the number of partners. The fewer sexual partners someone has, the less chance there is that a person will contract HIV. But limiting the number of partners will never stop the spread of HIV.

Offer needle exchange. Some people believe that giving new, clean needles to intravenous drug users reduces their risk of contracting HIV from a needle shared by someone who is HIV positive. While clean needles may reduce the risk of transmitting HIV, the resulting impaired judgment can enable other high risk sexual behavior thus exposing the individual to HIV.

Wait for sexual debut. The longer a person waits to become sexually active, the longer he or she will stay free from the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Saddleback doesn’t propose that S.L.O.W. will bring the AIDS epidemic to a full halt.

“If AIDS can be stopped,” strenuous efforts by and the full moral authority of the church will be required as well.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Medical Care, Religion | , , , | Comments Off on Rick Warren and the Pope differ over condoms

Anti-condom evangelicals had their political way with Bush

Christian evangelicals pushed the Bush administration to an anti-condom position like the one which has called down fire on Pope Benedict XVI’s head. They even drove insufficiently anti-condom evangelicals out of the administration. Jamie Kirchick wrote at TNR:

Anne Peterson, an assistant administrator for global health in the U.S. Agency for International Development and an evangelical who had worked with Christian aid groups in Africa, incurred the wrath of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson during a 2004 meeting at his Colorado Springs headquarters. There, Dobson asked Peterson for her position on condoms, to which she replied that they were an essential feature in HIV prevention alongside the encouragement of abstinence and monogamy. Soon after, Focus on the Family issued a paper criticizing her, and she eventually resigned under pressure. Peterson was replaced by Kent Hill, an evangelical Christian activist with neither a medical degree nor public health experience, who is currently the acting administrator of USAID.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Politics, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-condom evangelicals had their political way with Bush


Some have wondered if the Pope should step down. Robert S. McElvaine, professor of arts & letters at Millsaps College, goes one long step or two farther today in his On Faith comment:

There are, of course, no provisions in the hierarchical institution set up, not by Jesus but by men who hijacked his name and in many cases perverted his teachings, for impeaching a pope and removing him from office. But there ought to be.

As I detail in my latest book, “Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America” (Crown), the cardinal sin of the Catholic Church — a literally deadly sin, if ever there was one — is its opposition to birth control. Far from being, as the Church contends, part of its moral doctrine, this policy is, plainly, the immoral doctrine of the Church. The use of condoms is a pro-life position.

He finally suggests replacing him “with a woman.”

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI | , , | 1 Comment

Death, condoms and abstinence in Uganda

Uganda is the false example offered in defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s claim that condoms “can even increase the problem” of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The two-decade ebb in Uganda’s overall rate of AIDS was first of all the result of premature death of the previously infected. The AIDS incidence among living people fell primarily because so many of the infected died for lack of treatment. As the British Medical Journal reported:

“Death alone accounted for a six percentage point reduction in HIV prevalence in the one year,” Maria Wawer, a public health researcher from Columbia University, New York city, said. “Overall, the HIV prevalence over the last decade declined 6.2 percentage points. We estimate that mortality alone contributed five percentage points of the decline.”

Researchers found no scientific evidence that the remaining decline was due to abstinence.

Condom use, however, “increased dramatically” as AIDS incidence ebbed. Thus the most likely cause of fall in AIDS rate not due to death of the infected, was use of condoms.

Propaganda to the contrary via Fox News and other sources of obfuscation is a vote for death, in particular the death of the African women who now compose a majority of Africa’s AIDS-infected population.


Those women are in no position to apply the Pope’s homiletic advice about abstinence and responsibility. They lack power over their own lives. Michael Fleshman quotes UNAIDS Deputy Director Kathleen Cravero in the United Nations magazine, Africa Renewal:

“Across the globe,” she notes, “women, particularly young women, are not in a position to abstain. They are not in a position to demand faithfulness of their partners. In many cases they are in fact faithful, but are being infected by unfaithful partners.” . . . [They] are often unable to compel the use of condoms by their partners or are unwilling to even raise the issue for fear of rejection or physical assault.

“A woman who is a victim of violence or the fear of violence is not going to negotiate anything, let alone fidelity or condom use,” Ms. Cravero continues. “Her main objective is to get through the day without being beaten up. Real-life prevention strategies for women include reducing the levels of violence against women, protecting their property and inheritance rights and ensuring their access to education.”

It is no surprise then that on Wednesday when the Pope carried his anti-condom message into Cameroon, he was greeted with outrage. Alain Fogue, a spokesman for the Cameroon Advocacy Movement for Access to Treatment (MOCPAT), asked, “Is the Pope living in the 21st century? The people will not follow what the Pope is saying. He lives in Heaven and we are on Earth.”

On earth, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sound scientific reasons for recommending use of condoms to prevent AIDS transmission.

On earth, Uganda’s “True Love Awaits” program is a masque of death, misrepresented as a solution on behalf of Papal guidance for which sound, earthly, scientific rationalization appears to be absent.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pope versus the epidemiologist re AIDS

Driven to sarcasm by Pope Benedict XVI’s pronouncement that condoms “can even increase the problem” of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani wrote for the London Times:

I’ve worked with HIV prevention data for more than a decade, and I have found nothing to support this except a claim by William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration, who once pointed out that condom use was higher in communities with higher HIV prevalence – clear evidence that condoms aggravate the epidemic. Similarly, more people use treated bed nets in Lagos than in London, and Nigeria has far more malaria than the UK – clear evidence that bed nets spread malaria.

She finds “great mystery” in what she sees as the Pope’s focus on compassion for HIV victims at the expense of the uninfected, a view “shared by many evangelicals.” Instead:

Why can’t we also show compassion to uninfected people by helping them to stay that way, using every effective tool at our disposal? That includes abstinence, which works for many Catholic priests and some teenagers. And cutting down the number of people you have sex with. And condoms.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion, Science | , , , , , | Comments Off on Pope versus the epidemiologist re AIDS

Use condoms to prevent AIDS? The Pope versus the Centers for Disease Control

Regarding the use of latex condoms to prevent Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS):

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to journalists aboard his flight to Cameroon March 17, said:

One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.

The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., said:

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, consistent and correct use of latex condoms reduces the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including diseases transmitted by genital secretions, and to a lesser degree, genital ulcer diseases. Condom use may reduce the risk for genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and HPV-associated diseases, e.g., genital warts and cervical cancer.

The CDC Web page on this subject included an overview of laboratory studies, medical/scientific theory and epidemiologic data. Regarding epidemiology the CDC concluded:

Overall, the preponderance of available epidemiologic studies have found that when used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs.

The Pope offered no laboratory studies, medical/scientific theory or epidemiologic data.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Medical Care, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion, Science | , , , , , | 7 Comments