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Popes, Condoms And AIDS 

By R. John Kinkel*

It is not surprising that the international press castigates religious leaders for being largely silent regarding the AIDS pandemic. True, a few Catholic bishops have challenged the pope to alter the Vatican’s policy on condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Latin American, Africa, and around the world. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. UNAIDS has repeatedly challenged the church’s do-nothing-abstinence policy which fails to curb the spread of AIDS. As the fourth decade of the disease approaches, we can only hope the Pope will start to listen.

A considerable number of bishops and cardinals have registered their displeasure with Benedict XVI’s speech in June 2005 prohibiting Catholics from using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. AIDS activists in Brazil recently called the pope’s teaching criminal. The spread of AIDS "should be tackled through fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms," the pope has said. Numerous bishops and cardinals have said this is not the Catholic way.

– Six months before the Pope’s speech, Cardinal Georges?Cottier, the theologian for the papal household, called for a change in?Vatican policy regarding AIDS prevention.
– In the Fall of 2005 Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa stated?that the Vatican ban on the use of condoms to prevent AIDS was morally?unacceptable.

– Cardinals Danneels and Martini joined the chorus of dissent in?April, 2006. They asked for a change in the Pope’s policy banning the?use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS.
Ironically, the man who?became pope, Joseph Ratzinger, labored in the Vatican for 24 years?defending Catholic orthodoxy and is now being asked: are you?on the right track? Are you really Catholic?

The challenge was?formidable. The Pope bristled and blinked. He then ordered a?comprehensive review of Catholic teaching on condom use to prevent AIDS.?Over 500 days have passed and we have no report on the Pope’s study. Officials at the highest level of the church hierarchy are wondering if the Pope is teaching correct Catholic principles. Some of these men feel there is a better and more enlightened Catholic perspective. Most of the arguments against the pope’s stand rest on solid moral and ethical grounds. But the financial costs of this Vatican intransigence is in the millions. Here is why the pope should make a change.

First, a Catholic should respond to human suffering. Time and again we?have heard high ranking bishops say Christians must follow the?commandment: "Thou shalt not kill"(Deut 5:17). Catholics must be?concerned with human life! This is precisely the meaning of Catholic orthodox doctrine: what is believed always, everywhere, and by all. AIDS has orphaned millions in Latin America and Africa. Thus papal critics say Catholics should be allowed-encouraged-to use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. It also makes financial sense. Prevention saves lives and money.

Second, Catholics should take action when it is clear they can make a? difference. With 150 million Catholics in Africa and 120 million in?Brazil the pope must help those who are at high risk of contracting AIDS. According to the latest statistics issued on World AIDS day, more than 6,800 people are infected each day by this incurable but preventable disease. Since the Vatican ordered a review of its AIDS prevention policy, about 3,700,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS have emerged on the planet.

Catholic action in favor of the poor and suffering could have saved thousands of lives and millions in health care dollars. Action 5 years ago could have avoided untold millions of deaths. There are 400,000 priests worldwide who could have been engaged in teaching a truly Catholic approach to AIDS prevention. Instead, Peace Corps workers have reported to me that priests in Tanzania tell parishioners not to use condoms to fight the spread of AIDS. Will the pope be a Catholic to these suffering masses and respond positively to his brother Catholic bishops? While in Brazil six months ago the pope offered no new insights about AIDS prevention.

Third, Catholics seek enlightened teachers. Young people today are?looking for moral leadership. With church attendance and religious?affiliation at all time lows for 18 to 30-year-olds in the USA, Catholic?leaders must not throw another generation of believers under the bus and drive off into the conservative sunset.

The pope and his colleagues may say mass and pray for world peace while visiting the U.S. next April 2008. But now is the time for religion not only to pray their prayers. True holiness calls for meaningful action that values and protects human life as well as precious health care dollars in poor countries. Will the pope subscribe to such uniquely Catholic/Christian principles? Many hope so.

*R. John Kinkel, Ph.D. is author of the book ‘Chaos in the Catholic Church.’ For more; "Popes, Condoms, Aids" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the MPSA Annual National Conference, Palmer House Hotel, Hilton, Chicago, IL Online

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