|Pope Benedict XVI|
It was a bold stance to adopt in a continent that accounts for around 70 percent of the world's HIV cases. But for Benedict, AIDS is not so much a health problem as an ethical one.
'Above all, (AIDS) is an ethical problem,' he said, raising eyebrows in a continent devastated by the HIV virus. 'The change of behavior that it requires – for example, sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity, fidelity within marriage – ultimately involves the question of integral development, which demands a global approach and a global response from the Church…'
The pope's central point is that the ethical challenges AIDS poses to his Church teachings are ultimately more important than, you know, actually helping to prevent people from becoming infected in the first place.
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It's the general lack of ethics, Benedict implies, that results in the continuation of this deadly disease. In other words a lack of ethics leads to deadly diseases.
But you know, if that were really true, then most of the world's major religions, and indeed its political and financial systems, would have been wiped out centuries ago - wouldn't they?
In May 2005 Pope Benedict made his first public pronouncement on Aids, insisting that condoms never be used to fight it. At the time he was addressing the bishops of South Africa, where somebody dies of Aids every two minutes.
You have to admire his chutzpah. It's the kind of flying-in-the-face-of-reality pronouncement that social conservatives used to make back in the early 1980's, before they were shamed into adopting a more compassionate stance. So Pope Benedict takes us back 30 years in his theological time machine. Condoms are part of the problem, not part of the solution, he is still saying, although settled medicine contradicts him.
To be clear, condoms can not immunize someone against HIV infection, but they do effectively stop the virus from being transmitted during sex.
But with two million people dying every year from a preventable disease, Benedict's irresponsibility to look reality square in the face even once, rather than retreat behind life-denying theological hairsplitting, makes him part of the problem, not the solution.