Wednesday, March 18, 2009
If many of the African women who are in danger of contracting AIDS will do so from their already-infected husbands, and if sexual abstinence is not a realistic option for those women, how does the use of condoms increase the problem of AIDS in Africa? Did Pope Benedict mean that the distribution of condoms will send a message of support for sexual promiscuity, thereby decreasing current levels of abstinence and marital fidelity? If so, does that match up with the facts on the ground in Africa? A fuller explanation of the Pope's rationale would be helpful here, and I can't seem to find one in the mainstream news coverage of his comments.
UPDATE: A reader sends this Vatican transcript of the interview (in Italian), along with this partial, very rough translation.
SECOND UPDATE: I'm substituting a clearer translation (thanks to Marc DeGirolami):
I would say the opposite: I think that the more effective reality, more present at the head of the battle against AIDS, with its movements and its diverse realities, is exactly the Catholic Church. I think of the Community of Sant'Egidio that does so much, visibly and invisibly, for the fight against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all of the Sisters who are available to the sick . . . . I would say that the AIDS problem cannot be overcome solely with PR slogans. If there is no soul, if Africans do not help themselves, the scourge of AIDS cannot be resolved by the distribution of prophylactics: to the contrary, the risk is to augment the problem. The solution can be found only in twin labors: the 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, also a true friendship most of all for suffering people, the availability, also with sacrifices, with personal renouncements, in order to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that bring visible progress. Therefore, I would say that this is our twin strength of renewing man internally, and to give spiritual and human strength for just behavior with respect of one's own and others' bodies, as well as the capacity to suffer with the suffering, to remain constant in trying situations. It seems to me that this is the correct (or just) answer, and that the Church does this and so offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all of those that do it.
It has been clearly established that few people outside a handful of high-risk groups use condoms consistently, no matter how vigorously condoms are promoted. Inconsistent condom usage is ineffective—and actually associated with higher HIV infection rates due to “risk compensation,” the tendency to take more sexual risks out of a false sense of personal safety that comes with using condoms some of the time. A UNAIDS-commissioned 2004 review of evidence for condom use concluded, “There are no definite examples yet of generalized epidemics that have been turned back by prevention programs based primarily on condom promotion.”