No sooner did Pope Benedict XVI say at the start of his recent visit to Africa that distributing condoms to combat AIDS “increase(s) the problem,” a hail of criticism came from Western-based health organizations in Africa, media pundits and last week from the respected British medical journal, the Lancet. Putting it kindly, the observers and commentators exclaimed with surety that the Pope was wrong to oppose condom use as a means of halting the spread of HIV, which causes AIDS.
As it turns out, evidence shows the Pope was right, after all.
This week a study by a Harvard University researcher shows that “no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates” exist.
“There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Study,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher – not lower – HIV-infection rates,” said Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in National Review Online. “The best evidence we have supports the Pope’s comments.”
It makes sense when one considers that since condoms have a certain rate of failure, if they are used as a supposed protection for increased and indiscriminate sexual activity with multiple partners and even outside marriage, more infections are bound to result: More illicit sexual activity, more infections.
There is a broader issue here than condom use. The Pope came to Africa not to condemn but to propose a better way of life. He said halting the spread of HIV could only come about through “a humanization of sexuality” that includes abstinence outside marriage and fidelity within marriage, as well as the continued care of those struck by the pandemic through numerous Church programs.
It could hardly have been a surprise to anyone that the Pope would choose to use the occasion of his apostolic visit to convey consistent Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage and family life and the dignity of the human person.
Everyone with an interest in saving lives by preventing infection should agree that accomplishing that goal must have at its foundation the virtue of chastity.
In plain English: Not having sex outside of marriage and especially with multiple partners, and remaining faithful to one’s spouse in marriage, are the best ways to avoid infection. They’re also the ways a person retains one’s God-given dignity as a person created for holiness and happiness in God’s image.
If the Pope and other teachers of the Catholic faith must accept criticism for saying these truths in public, then so be it.
Critics should reflect carefully on the wisdom of this teaching before rejecting it outright, and they should consider the most up-to-date scientific evidence on the matter.
The latter shows that the Pope was right.