Pope: distributing condoms helps to spread AIDS

From the Times of London:

The Pope courted further controversy on his first trip to Africa today by declaring that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic – but were instead part of the problem.

In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids “is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”. ….

He said 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”.

The World Health Organization, on the other hand, says that “consistent and correct” condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent. Are the pope’s comments morally responsible?

AP is on the story as well.


France, echoing the reaction of some aid agencies, said it “voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of [the Pope’s comments]”.

“While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life,” foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

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  1. Zachary

    I think it is important to understand the Pope’s comments in context. Which is to say that as the Pope he is representing the global Church of Rome and his public statements need reflect their church’s teaching. Although I don’t agree that this sort of comment is necessarily the most helpful, I still find it rather necessary. In other words, instead of courting the cultural milieu of the day and being satisfied with the 90% effectiveness of condoms preventing the spread of HIV, the church is offering a different stance. Condoms do not need to be condemned but pressing the issue a bit will do nothing but enhance public discourse. Hopefully allowing us all to ask the important question, what is really going on here, what are we really talking about? The Pope’s comments could be understood as morally irresponsible if taken out of the context that he is supporting human action that is 100% effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection. This is a real tight rope to walk, and I think that the Anglican Communion is often better situated to deal with issues with edges due to our structural differences from the Church of Rome.

    -Zachary Thompson

  2. John B. Chilton

    I’d like to hear what the pope has to say about this statement by an African Catholic Archbishop in 2007:


    Archbishop Chimoio told our reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/Aids. “Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose,” he alleged, refusing to name the countries. “They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century’s time.”

  3. Christopher Hayes

    In the only context that matters — the context of human lives — the Pope’s statement and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in this area are extremely irresponsible.

    Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical that prohibited all forms of birth control, is based on ideas long discredited by science. It may be the single most important factor, perhaps rivaled by the sexual abuse scandal, in causing the bulk of Roman Catholics in the West to lose confidence in the teaching authority of the Roman church.

    Condoms work a lot better than expecting people to remain 100% abstinent. The ban on condoms forces people to have more children than they can afford, actually increases the abortion rate among Roman Catholics (at least in the US), and causes people to be infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases who would otherwise have been able to avoid them.

    The bottom line: Consistency of doctrine is not worth the loss of human lives. Instead of shutting his eyes to reality, the Pope needs to abandon this false and harmful doctrine.

  4. Peter Pearson

    Policies and personalities aside, people are dying and condoms can in fact save the lives of those who do not share the pope’s views. Should they be condemned to death because their opinion differs from the Church of Rome? Sometimes you have to stop the bleeding before you can convince the bleeder that cutting yourself with a knife is a bad thing to do. How is this PRO-LIFE?

  5. garydasein

    Ratzinger’s absolute rejection of condoms is an example of fanaticism because he refuses to consider consequences which would justify trumping the principle, i.e. saving lives.

    R M Hare, my favorite moral philosopher, argues that fanaticism is an absolute embrace of principles without any consideration of consequences. The Pope’s position fits this definition.

    Some conservative Roman Catholics brag that Rome has absolute principles and views on moral issues but such certainty does not help in the real world, where principles are often in conflict with each other. Anglicanism with its messiness seems more suited to a messy reality.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  6. The Pope is quite right: the only way to assuredly stop spread of STDs (including, in this case, AIDS) is through abstinence from sex. It’s better than condoms by 10%, near as I can tell. The Pope has, at his back, millennia of Judeo-Christian teaching saying that such abstinence is not only healthy it is also morally right. It is *better* than any other method in the eyes of God. That is the Pope’s truth and it’s not morally irresponsible of him to preach it. In fact, quite the reverse.

    It is, however, morally irresponsible of him to pretend that those not of his faith (or sharing his traditional reading of his faith) would simply jump at his words. In a world where everyone was a devout and pious follower of such a tradition, condoms would be redundant. But in *this* world – the real world – it’s important that those who take risks (or those who have risks forced upon them by arranged marriages, etc) take steps to minimize those risks.

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