Amidst all the hullabaloo about AIG bonuses, little has been said about the outrageous—and potentially far more destructive—behavior of Pope Benedict VI in a recent visit to Cameroon. In a country where fully 5% of the population is diagnosed with AIDS and an unknown number infected with the virus, the Pope claimed—against all logic and scientific evidence—that distribution and use of condoms wouldn’t help the situation.
Of course the regular use of condoms helps to mitigate the spread of AIDS. They form a barrier to prevent virus-laden sperm from entering the body of an uninfected person. No virus, no disease. And to suggest that more people will just go out and have sex because condoms are available is ridiculous. Let’s face it, having sex is just something that normal, healthy people (especially young people) do—condoms or no condoms. If the Pope is concerned about saving people’s souls, let’s start by saving lives and allowing youngsters time to grow and mature.
There’s something else that regular use of condoms does—it prevents conception. I can understand the church’s stand against abortion, even if I don’t entirely agree with it in all its particulars. After all, once conception has occurred, there is a rudimentary, emergent human being to be considered. But in today’s world, to pontificate against the use of birth control measures that prevent conception is irresponsible in the extreme—for several reasons.
First, the earth has enough people on it already. That’s been true for decades—we’ve just quit talking about it for some reason. Secondly, people who use birth control do so because they’re not ready to have a baby. Someone needs to explain to His Holiness that not being ready to have a baby is not the same thing as not being ready to have sex. And people who aren’t ready—physically, mentally, spiritually, or financially—to bring a child into the world and care for it shouldn’t.
A brief look at the world mortality rates of infants and children shows that virtually all the countries with the highest rates are in Africa. These figures, of course, don’t reflect the number of sick or malnourished mothers who die before they can give birth. Nor do they reflect the children for whom survival means persisting from one miserable day to the next, orphaned and hungry and emotionally destitute. Statistics can never measure real human suffering.
How many of those dead and dying women and children, how much illness and starvation occurs among Catholics who are doomed because of where they live and because they try to live in accordance with the dictates of their church? Even in wealthy, developed countries, I wonder how many abortions the Catholic Church causes by its ridiculous, antiquated, either-or attitude toward sex education and birth control.
These days, parents can’t send their children off to some isolated convent or monastery on a mountain to “protect them” from the world. Kids and young adults will crave love and affection. They will act in accordance with their feelings, be impulsive, make poor choices. When it comes to sex—especially with AIDS abroad in the world—those choices can result in horrific consequences—for individuals and for the planet as a whole. Not to promote simple, inexpensive precautions—other than the obvious one, abstinence—is nothing less than obscene.
I think the Pope needs to go back to the Vatican and have another chat with God. And I also think, for what it’s worth, that the next time around, the Cardinals should consider candidates for Pope from among the under-70s crowd.