That’s what Pope Benedict XVI is, even though he’ll never admit it. His declaration last week that AIDS in Africa was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems” was the construction of yet another obstacle in the path to an epidemic-free continent, where over 22 million are infected with the disease. His solution? “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”
Now, I may be an atheist, but I’m certainly not the militant type that actively seeks to dismantle religion at any given juncture, but it’s hard to listen to this without feeling a sense of both shame and anger at the words of someone who is, through the influence of his church, such a huge influence to the lives of millions. Religion gives hope and structure to many people throughout the world, and there’s a place for it, just as there is a place for atheism, and agnosticism, but what hope do abstinence and praying give to those already dying of the disease? They deny our human nature, our desires, our attraction. To suggest that they are the only ‘failsafe’ method to halt the devastating swathe that AIDS and HIV cut through the continent is, while understandable within the context of the Catholic faith, naive and sticking your head in the sand. But to suggest that AIDS will worsen through the use of condoms is laughable, (presumably a reference to the skewed logic that it will promote promiscuity, in a continent where it is in part responsible for the spread of the virus) closing the door after the horse had bolted. What it really is, and what the Catholic church can sadly never admit, is a contributor to the very deaths themselves.
With so much influence in the region, such dogma can only serve to confuse, to undo the tireless work of the aid agencies, and to send thousands or even millions to their death, no doubt safe they will be rewarded in heaven. And yet the Catholic church ploughs on with the theory, and with it, pious voice floating over the parapet, refuses to engage with medical science and modern life. It’s a tragedy of global proportions, and while the Pope can sleep safely knowing his life is a far cry from the ungodly, erratic existence of those in Africa whose lives are a sea of (in Benedict’s words) “divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality “, what hope will his words give those dying millions?