June 11, 2005
More sound advice from Pope Benedict XVI, this time on AIDS:
Pope Benedict XVI urged African bishops Friday to keep up their fight against AIDS, reiterating church teaching that abstinence is the only “fail-safe” way to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraceptive mentality, all of which contribute to a breakdown in sexual morality,” Benedict said.
… Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 60 percent of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide. In March, a U.N. study predicted that more than 80 million Africans may die from AIDS by 2025 and infections could soar to 90 million — or more than 10 percent of the continent’s population — if more is not done to expand prevention programs and offer better access to drugs that can control the virus.
… [Benedict said that] “the Catholic Church has always been at the forefront both in prevention and in treatment of this illness” and that “the traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only fail-safe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
Catholicism doesn’t seem to have worked too well so far in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the religion has grown at more than twice the rate of the population over the past 50 years, and now has around 140 million followers. An estimated 25 million people are living with HIV in the region, with approximately three million new infections occurring in 2004 alone. And some of the highest infection rates are found in the most Catholic countries: in South Africa and Zambia, for example, one out of every five adults is infected.
The reality, of course, is that the Vatican’s stance does much more harm than good: while its other-worldly teachings about abstinence go unheeded, its opposition to condoms has made most African Catholics wary of using them. The result: tens of thousands of needless deaths.
Some leading Catholic bishops are starting to break ranks over the condom issue:
A South African bishop and leading advocate of scrapping the Catholic Church ban on condoms on Wednesday urged new Pope Benedict XVI to open a dialogue with those who have had the “crucifying experience” of the AIDS pandemic.
… [Catholic Bishop Kevin] Dowling harshly criticised “technocrats” in the Vatican who are far removed from what he termed the “crucifying experience” of meeting and trying to help people dying from AIDS in southern Africa.
“They haven’t got the first-hand experience of massive shack settlements like where I live and work and face this tremendous challenge where young women are dying of AIDS in terror and fear and totally rejected, with a baby dying as well, and worrying about what will happen if she dies first...”
“And where she has been forced into becoming a sex worker simply because she has no other means of survival and no options and therefore cannot follow the Church’s direction,” said Dowling in a phone interview with AFP.
“I believe our official stance is totally irrelevant to such people,” said Dowling, whose archdiocese covers the platinum-mining heartland of South Africa.
… “If the new pope engages in a dialogue with those who have had the experience of tragedy on the ground and have raised this issue, perhaps, perhaps as a theologian he will see that it is possible to make out a case” for ending the ban on condoms, said Dowling, 61, who has been bishop of Rustenberg for close to 15 years.
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