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Pope’s Statement on AIDS in Africa Tells Part of the Story

November 21, 2011

Catholic Leader Agrees with Pope on Importance of Ethics, Disagrees on Priorities

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement this morning after the pope spoke about preventing the spread of HIV in Africa.

“When Pope Benedict XVI raised the issue of AIDS prevention on his trip to Benin, he told a small part of the story. He said, correctly, that dealing with the disease is an ethical problem. He went on to call for people to change their sexual behavior, promoting abstinence and rejecting promiscuity. There are several other things that the pope could have said that would help save lives.

“There are indeed many ethical issues involved in AIDS and preventing the spread of HIV. I would like to see the institutional church address some of them, such as the Catholic hierarchy’s continued campaign to deny condoms to those seeking to prevent the spread of HIV, especially in the many treatment centers that the church runs around the world. This is especially important for discordant couples when one partner is positive and seeks to prevent transmitting the disease to a partner. The church hierarchy does not permit condom use, even for discordant couples.

“In addition, Pope Benedict leads a church that receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year for HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. Leaders in the church seek to deny the thousands of workers in Catholic institutions around the world the right to distribute condoms that would save lives. This is intolerable. Some bishops continue to lie about the effectiveness of condoms in saving lives. While condoms are not a panacea, they are very effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and should be provided to those who can benefit from their use.

“The last two times the pope discussed preventing HIV, he caused enormous controversy. In a previous trip to Africa, in 2009, he claimed that condoms aggravated the problem. In 2010, he said that condom use to prevent the transmission of HIV is ‘a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more humane sexuality.’ In 2009, he was wrong. In 2010, he displayed a more mature understanding of the problem. In 2011, he should have gone much further.

“According to a 2007 poll in which Catholics living in Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States were interviewed about their views, support for condom use is overwhelming. When asked if ‘using condoms is prolife because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS,’ 90 percent of Catholics in Mexico, 86 percent in Ireland, 79 percent in the US, 77 percent in the Philippines and 59 percent in Ghana agreed.

“In 2001, Catholics for Choice initiated the Condoms4Life campaign, an unprecedented worldwide public education effort to raise public awareness about the devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms. The campaign’s slogan is ‘Good Catholics use condoms.’ The day the pope states that, without equivocation or qualification, will be an enormously important day in the ongoing global struggle against the spread of HIV and AIDS.”

View the results of the 2007 poll in a pictorial format.