Pope’s advice on condom use is archaic and dangerous

Just like Pope John Paul II had to finally admit Galileo Galilei had been right that the world was round and not the centre of the universe in a statement released in 1992, eventually Pope Benedict XVI will have to admit that his statements regarding condoms are misleading at best.

Don’t be fooled — Pope Benedict XVI continues to undermine the fight against HIV/AIDS, just like every other Pope that came before him.

His Holiness is allowing the use of condoms. Wait — only under certain circumstances, because the Catholic Church continues to barricade the fight against the global proliferation of HIV.

His admission comes in the recently released six-hour interview-turned-book Light of the World: The Pope, The Church, and the Sign of the Times, by Peter Seewald, where the Pope decided to condone condom usage in “extreme cases.”

For the hundreds of South Africans I’ve taught HIV education to who are continuously confused by the statements he makes about condoms every couple of years, I want to rip my hair out.

Because let’s face it — when the Pope makes comments about birth control, he is speaking to the growing Catholic populations in developing nations, as the overwhelming majority of his adherents in the West don’t abide by any sort of doctrine regarding sexual activity. For one, a 2002 U.S. survey found 96 per cent of sexually active Catholic women had used birth control.

Let us not discuss the morality behind artificial birth control and heed the fact that condoms are the cheapest, most effective means of curbing the virus’s transmission. Until a microbicide is developed that will kill the human immunodeficiency virus, it is the best resource the world has in terms of protection — besides abstinence.

However, when it comes to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, the teaching of abstinence should only go hand-in-hand with lessons on condom usage and positive living.

His recent remarks are not the first that Pope Benedict XVI has made regarding the HIV epidemic. In 2008, while on a tour of the African continent, he was cited as saying that condoms won’t stop the spread of HIV. And now the Pope has given the go-ahead for the use of condoms in exceptional cases, like for male prostitutes.

Thanks Benedict, you’re about 30 years too late. The HIV epidemic has evolved far beyond the high-risk group of men who have sex with men, to an age where many estimates suggest that heterosexual intercourse is responsible for 70 to 80 per cent of all new HIV infections worldwide.

Pope Benedict’s rhetoric surrounding condom usage continues to be outdated, misinformed, misleading and downright detrimental to the 33.3 million adults and children worldwide living with HIV, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The archaic policies and beliefs espoused by the Catholic Church concerning contraceptives would have been debatably applicable in the 1980s — but today HIV affects everyone, not just those women who live the developing world. The Canadian Women’s Health Network reported that the greatest increase in new infections in 2003 were within the demographic of women aged 15 to 29. Not to mention, women are biologically more susceptible to contracting the virus.
The Pope’s comments undermine any progress done by international, government and non-governmental organizations for the advancement of women and HIV education.

The Pope’s statement that a “more humane attitude towards sexuality” and not condom usage will curb the spread of HIV is laughable. To rely on behavioural change alone in the context of HIV is an agenda that undermines the use of a scientifically proven method of curbing transmissions.

A healthy and humane society is one that learns the ramifications of having sex and discovers all avenues to protect everyone — men and women — from contracting the virus. It is not one that sweeps condom usage under the rug, spreads falsities about their effectiveness and confuses populations of individuals in search of answers.

So today, on World AIDS Day, I will continue to be more vocal about condom usage not just for the women, girls and boys I used to teach HIV education to in a rural South African village. I’ll be vocal in an attempt to stifle the rhetoric of those who choose to neglect science, current society and development, like Pope Benedict XVI.

And you should too, because we live in a society of luxury where we brush aside the words of a Pope, whose advice is so archaic that it sets women back decades.

And I’ll hope that the words of volunteers, medical workers and HIV/AIDS advocates are stronger than Pope Benedict’s. That his wavering stance on contraception and his misguided appeals against the proliferation of condoms will somehow fall on deaf ears and that someday His Holiness will realize that he’s playing with millions of people’s lives.