Vatican press office applies profilattici

The Times reports that the Vatican press office has altered the words of the Pope who had said to reporters Aids was a “tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”:

The Vatican website published an edited text of the Pope’s comments the day after a question-and-answer session on his flight to Cameroon. It was a question from a French reporter that elicited an unqualified response about condoms.

By introducing the word “risks” [aggravating the problems] the Vatican softened the message. The website at first also altered the Italian word the Pope used for condoms, from “preservativi” to “profilattici”.

It is not clear whether “preservatives” — the usual Italian term for condoms — was deemed too colloquial, or whether “prophylactics” was considered not simply more polite but more general, since it could be taken to encompass other forms of “safeguard against disease”. Subsequently the word was changed back to preservativi.

All Vatican press conferences are conducted in Italian, which the German-born Pope speaks fluently and which Vatican-accredited reporters are also expected to speak. Reporters who recorded the interview on the flight said the recordings showed that the Pope had used the word “preservativi” and not “profilattici”.

About the rewriting, Rome’s advocate at The Telegraph, Damien Thompson wrote:

So, let’s get this straight. The same press office that didn’t get round to Googling “Richard Williamson” before he was readmitted to the Church now thinks that the world’s press WON’T NOTICE if it tinkers with the Pope’s answers to questions?

The Pope’s stance is that monogamy is the better remedy for the prevention of the spread of AIDS. It takes two to monogamize however.

Some reactions to the Pope’s statement:

The economist William Easterly:

From the standpoint of the individual, this is obvious nonsense, you are much less likely to get AIDS if you use a condom. The reason that mass condom distribution has not worked is that far too many people don’t use the condoms. One among the many possible reasons that people don’t use condoms is that religious leaders like the Pope tell them not to, or they believe unscientific statements like the Pope’s that “condoms aggravate the problem.” So it is tragically circular for the Pope to condemn the condom campaigns for not working, when one reason they don’t work is that the Pope has previously condemned condoms.

The Meaningfulness of Little Things:

1. …In a culture where women have few if any sexual rights how do you ask a man to put on a condom? What’s worse – the beating that is sure to follow such a request or the possibility of a disease somewhere down the road?

2. Regardless of where you land on the condom argument the sad truth is that the Pope’s statement probably hurt women and other sexually marginalized populations the most as they are the only ones who probably could have benefitted from a more nuanced message from the pontiff.

3. Somewhere I have a photo I took of a group of boys playing soccer with a ball made entirely of condoms (thrown out by a clinic after they “expired”). Did I mention there were a lot of condoms around?

Is the Pope a Catholic? He’s certainly not a scientist:

But the Pope didn’t oppose the use of condoms because Catholic dogma says it’s bad to have sex without making babies. He said we shouldn’t give out condoms in Africa because condom distribution actually makes the HIV epidemic worse. If he’s setting himself up as an epidemiologist, he’s got a bit of work to do. It’s true that in some cases, condom use is highest in communities where HIV is also high. But Rule Number 1 of epidemiology: correlation does not equal causation.

Edward C. Green (director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) and Allison Herling Ruark have argued that condoms may encourage risky behavior and worsen through this behavioral mechanism increase the spread of AIDS. Such an argument could imply that condoms should not be subsidized or distributed for free. It’s not clear whether in their empirical studies they successfully identified whether the correlation they found implies causation.

Category : The Lead

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One Comment
  1. here is a propsective study that suggests a causal link, published in the leading AIDS journal:

    Kajubi P, Kamya M, Kamya S, Chen S, McFarlandW, Hearst N. Increasing condom use without reducing HIV risk: results of a controlled community trial in Uganda. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2005;40:77-82.

    Edward C Green

    Harvard U.

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