Blogged by James Preece 4 Years ago...
Now this is the guy they should get on TV...
As an Archbishop, dealing on a daily basis with people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, I know that the Pope is speaking the truth. I suspect that those who were so vociferous in condemning the Pope have never touched an HIV infected person, let alone rendered any care and attention. It is so much easier to distribute gadgets, especially at other people's expense.
What reduces infections is less casual sex, not more condoms. That is the truth. Those who accuse the Pope of being "unrealistic," that young people will have sex anyway, have no respect for the young people. When they are given true orientation, they freely respond with far greater sexual responsibility that the armchair social experts can ever imagine.
As an African Archbishop, it is my nephews and nieces that are in danger of dying of HIV/AIDS. Let no one ever suggest that they are more concerned about them than I am. The condom distributors should listen to the truth coming not only from the Pope and Bishops, but even from impartial and serious scientific research. The facts are there, as Cardinal Pell has briefly illustrated. To ignore these facts is the greatest disservice anyone can do to the future of Africa. The struggle continues, and we are overcoming!
Archbishop John Onaiyekan
Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria
Blogged by James Preece 4 Years ago...
I don't think we're being unreasonable...
The whole condoms in Africa question is one of those issues things that comes up with tedious regularity. I've heard priests (and I'm sure you can guess who, so I won't bother) say that Pope John Paul II was responsible for millions of deaths in Africa due to his stance on condoms which many people believe is clearly to blame. Now some are saying the same about Pope Benedict XVI. The people at "Catholics for Choice" have kindly put together a list of dissenting Bishops and Cardinals. It's a long list (including our own Cardinal Cormac).
The problem for you and I, ordinary Catholics on the ground, is how to explain the Church's position to our not particularly religious friends. Nobody is going to tell us in RE classes or Confirmation courses, nobody is going to explain it from the pulpit. We're on our own. When the people we are with in the Pub proudly announce that they went to a Catholic school "but I don't believe all that nonsense now" and then go on to say that the Pope is responsible for millions of deaths...
What do you say?
The Problem Stated
The question usually centres on a married couple. One of the partners has Aids and the other doesn't. That presents us with two options, either they can have sex without a condom and pass on the Aids virus, or they can use a condom and the other partner can remain safe. Clearly, no rational person would suggest that the couple have unprotected sex, so we should obviously allow an exception to the "no condom" rule on this occasion.
Recently I've started seeing a new variation on this. During his recent visit to Africa Pope Benedict said that Aids "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems", our opponents have a field day with that. Silly Pope.. He thinks that giving people condoms increases the spread Aids!
He's right though.
The Short Answer
What should the married couple do? One of them has Aids, the other doesn't. Should they have sex without a condom and pass on Aids or should they have sex with a condom and be safe? The catch is this.. Condoms are not 100% effective. Scientists are divided about how effective a condom is at stopping Aids but in the Pub we can't start pulling out scientific journals and everybody will assume you're just making it up anyway so stick with the commonly accepted figure that condoms are 99% effective.
So that gives our couple two options: They can have sex without a condom and have a 100% chance of passing the Aids or they can have sex with a condom and have a 1% chance of passing the Aids. The condom is still looking pretty good. Surely the condom is the lesser of two evils?
Except there is a third option, which isn't evil at all. They could abstain from sex altogether.
I used the slightly provocative example of a gun. You can shoot it at your wife fully loaded, you can take a chance and shoot it as your wife with some of the bullets taken out or you can not shoot it. What would Jesus do?
The Full Answer
As your opponent will probably point out. The short answer doesn't do a lot to explain how condoms "aggravate" the problem and it's idealistic. It's all very well having these ideals but you need to get in the real world. You might think it's the right thing to do by your moral standard, but you can't impose that standard on other people. Besides which "Science" has "proved" that condoms are the solution to the Aids problem... Has it indeed?
What if there were no condoms...
The first question I would want to ask anybody is this: Imagine you are that person who has Aids and your partner does not. Imagine you live in a remote village in Africa and you have no access to condoms. What would you do? Would you have sex with your partner and knowingly infect them with Aids?
I'm guessing you wouldn't. I'm guessing that if you understood the risks involved you would be willing to abstain from sex because you don't want your partner to catch Aids. What's more, I'm pretty sure you would think quite badly of anybody who knowingly infected somebody with Aids. I don't think you would call it idealistic for an infected person to avoid sex, I'm pretty sure you would consider it a more of a moral duty.
Whether you think you would succeed or not, I think we can all agree that the right thing to do would be to try and abstain from sex in order to save your partners life. I think we can also all agree that the right thing for a moral leader like the Pope to say would be "If you have Aids, don't have sex because you will give other people Aids and that's bad".
What if condoms were really rubbish...
Still talking hypothetically, the second question I would like to ask is this: Imagine if condoms were really rubbish at preventing Aids. I'm not claiming they are, I'm asking you to imagine the situation. Imagine if condoms were 50% effective so that sex with your partner had a 50% chance of getting Aids after a year of regular sex.
Would you take that chance? Is your own sexual gratification work taking a 50/50 gamble with a persons life, a person you supposedly "love"? I expect you would say not. I expect you would say that such a risk is to high, your partner is worth more to you than that and that you would still abstain from sex.
So what if condoms were 75% effective? Your partner now has a 1 in 4 chance of getting Aids. Would you risk it?
What price your partners life?
Ultimately, we're just negotiating a price. What risk are you willing to take with another persons life? What price are you willing to pay for your own sexual gratification? Are we talking about 90% or 99%? Give me a figure? How much do you love your partner? What would Jesus do?
It's not hard is it. If you love your partner, if you want what's best for them, no risk is acceptable. I would have thought our hyper-careful-bubble-wrap-the-children culture would get that. If your child married somebody with Aids, what risk would you be willing to accept?
Damn right the Pope says no.
What the Pope is really saying is that human life has a greater value than sexual pleasure. He's saying it is never acceptable to say "this act might result in my partners death but I will do it anyway because I enjoy it and that's more important than their life".
Is don't think that view is unreasonable. Even if you disagree, I'm not sure how you could possible consider it worthy of the kind of derision and mockery it usually receives.
Do condoms really "aggravate" things?
Recently the Pope came under fire for suggesting that condoms actually make the Aids situation worse.
Let's compare the two situations. In the absence of condoms we have a situation in which people are very much aware of the risks involved and do their best to avoid infection. If you knew that sex with a stranger would result in a deadly disease, I expect you would be very careful to avoid sex with strangers. If you knew that sex with your partner would result in her contracting a deadly disease, I expect you would think very hard before having sex with your partner. If you knew that having sex with your partner would result in you contracting a deadly disease, I expect you would think even harder.
Now introduce condoms with their magical promise of "safe" sex. Why not have sex with a stranger? Why not have sex with your partner? It's safe and even if it isn't you've done nothing wrong because you did your best and used a condom. The fact is, that in Africa the "married couple where one partner has Aids" problem isn't the cause of the spreading of Aids, it's the "lots of people have more than one sexual partner" problem.
So we've gone from a situation in which people infected with Aids feel morally obliged to avoid sex and people without Aids are strongly motivated to avoid sex with Aids carriers, to a situation in which people infected with Aids feel they are covered morally by condom use and people without Aids have a false sense of security. What difference do you think that's going to make to the amount of risk taking going on?
The Pope isn't alone on this, Harvard Scientist Edward C Green is not a Catholic nor does he consider it wrong to use condoms for contraceptive purposes, but he agrees with the Pope: Condoms make things worse...
...intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that's not what the research in Africa shows.
One reason is "risk compensation." That is, when people think they're made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.
...ongoing multiple concurrent sex partnerships resemble a giant, invisible web of relationships through which HIV/AIDS spreads. A study in Malawi showed that even though the average number of sexual partners was only slightly over two, fully two-thirds of this population was interconnected through such networks of overlapping, ongoing relationships.
So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks -- or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones.
A Question of Choice
At the end of the day, whether condoms agravate the situation or not (and I think they do), the Pope isn't there to treat the people of Africa like animals in a zoo. He isn't there to say "African people are animals who can't help having sex so we have to allow them to use condoms". The people who think condoms are a magical solution to Aids tend to talk a bit like that.
As Christians we believe that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with the ability to make their own choices. They have the ability to choose between right and wrong, the freedom to choose the good. Abstinence, sacrifice of ones own sexual acivity for the benefit of others is the more loving, more christlike thing to do.
But what would a celibate Pope know about abstaining from sex?