The pope obviously takes the former, I take the latter. But it does seem to me his is an unconscionable position, given the authoritative influence he has on such a large percentage of the world’s people.
I could even make the case that the pope is guilty of aiding and abetting genocide – because, from his position as the ultimate religious authority to billions of people, he is telling his followers not to use a simple means of protecting their wives and unborn children from a deadly disease.
What I’m referring to is the pope’s statement that relying on the use of condoms increases the risk of HIV transmission. And to say this, as he embarks on his historic tour of Africa where HIV/AIDS is decimating the population, further marks him as out of touch with the world we live in.
The pope’s point: the most effective way to prevent HIV spread is through sexual abstinence or monogamous sexuality with an uninfected partner.
But he goes further and says using condoms actually increases the risk. It’s true that condoms are not 100 percent effective, largely because they are often not properly or consistently used.
The solution to that is education, however, not condemnation. Statistics show that, properly used, condoms are effective in the high 90 percent range.
The pope is correct – if the only two options are abstinence and monogamy.
But people are not going to stop having sex outside marriage.
History has tried everything from public shaming to public stoning, and sex just keeps on happening.
So the correct use of condoms can make the difference between an epidemic of HIV/AIDS that has left millions of orphans in some African nations, many of them HIV positive themselves – and a very effective program that has greatly reduced the spread of HIV, as in Uganda.
I can even accept the A–B–C approach that some religious groups advocate: Be abstinent, be faithful or use condoms.
This extols the abstinent–if–single/faithful–if–married approach but also recognizes that many will not – and they should use condoms.
The pope’s plan might get you into heaven – after you die from AIDS. I would rather we focus on saving your life, and that of your children, here on Earth.
Dr. Ralph Roughton is clinical professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.