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Pope's Attack on Condoms Sickens Aids Activists

The Pope caused dismay among AIDS campaigners Tuesday by declaring on his first trip to Africa that condoms were not the solution to the epidemic ravaging the continent.

In his first public comments on Condom use, an issue that has divided even Roman Catholic clergy working with AIDS sufferers, he told reporters en route to Cameroon that AIDS “Cannot be overcome by distributing condoms – it only increases the problem”.

AIDS activists had hoped that Pope Benedict, who has emphasised previously that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against AIDS, would take a more nuanced approach than his predecessor, John Paul II.

Catholic and human rights activists immediately condemned the statement, saying that it showed that the Pope was out of touch with reality and advocating inhumane policies that would increase the suffering of innocent people.

Kevin Osborne, HIV adviser at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: “All the evidence is that preaching sexual abstinence and fidelity will not solve the problems. We need to work with the reality of where people are, especially in countries he is visiting such as Angola, which is hard–hit by the epidemic.

“The Pope’s message will alienate everybody. It is scary. It spreads stigma and creates a fertile breeding ground for the spread of HIV.”

Rebecca Hodes, head of policy, communication and research at Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, said that if the Pope were serious about preventing HIV infections he would focus on promoting wider access to condoms and information. “Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans,” she said.

After his election, the Pope described Aids as “A cruel epidemic which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent”, but reiterated the Vatican ban on the use of condoms. It was hoped, however, that he would modify its position to take account of particular circumstances.

Echoing words spoken frequently by Pope John Paul II, Benedict declared that the “traditional teaching of the Church” on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be “The only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids”.

A few hours later, when his plane landed at Yaounde the capital of Cameroon, he said that he was bringing the “Christian message of hope” to the world’s poorest continent – an assertion disputed strongly, even among his clergy. About 5 per cent of Cameroon’s 18 million people are believed to be living with HIV/Aids. Across the continent more than 22 million people are now infected.

The Vatican’s stand flies in the face of current world opinion. President Obama appears ready to reverse the Bush Administration’s controversial policy of giving financial aid only to organisations promoting abstinence and fidelity, a position adopted largely under pressure from the Christian Right.

The Pope’s comments look likely to create further division in a church racked by disagreements on numerous issues from gay rights to Holocaust denials.

A senior lay Catholic, who asked not to be named, said: “It is very hard to be a Catholic nowadays. We are meant to be following the Lord.”

He said that he felt as ashamed now as he had when the mother of a nine–year–old girl who had become pregnant with twins after being raped by her stepfather was excommunicated when she allowed doctors to abort the babies. The doctors were also excommunicated, but the stepfather suffered no penalty from the Church.

The Pope will fly from Cameroon to Angola, which is staunchly Catholic as well as badly hit by HIV/Aids after years of civil war.

Two years ago there was speculation that the Vatican might amend its ban on condoms after Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, said that in couples where one partner had HIV/Aids, the use of condoms was “A lesser evil”.

The World Health Organisation says that “Consistent and correct” Condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent.

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Source: San Francisco Sentinel




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