Media Distorts Pope's Position On Condoms in Africa

Today Pope Benedict XVI began a five-day pastoral trip to Africa where the Catholic Church is growing in leaps and bounds, even while its members and charitable institutions face enormous social challenges.

Statistics of church attendance, baptisms and other sacraments, and priestly and religious vocations show faster growth for the Catholic Church in Africa than in any other part of the world. This growth is paralleled, however, with a local reality of tribal warfare, government corruption, poverty, and disease in large swaths of the continent.

Aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, the pope responded to a reporter's question about the AIDS epidemic and the Church's refusal to promote condom distribution as the solution. Pope Benedict XVI said:

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem." For the record (and, unfortunately, among the major news sites you'll only see this distinction made here on, the Pope's statement was specifically a judgment against condom distribution as a solution to the HIV epidemic. He did not say condoms don't work in preventing the transmission of the HIV virus. He did not say the Church would prefer that an HIV positive patient infect a sexual partner than that he or she use a condom. He did not say it's a "double sin" to use a condom in non-marital sex.

Pope Benedict knows history is proving the mass distribution of condoms by the United Nations and population control organizations as the principle strategy against AIDS has failed miserably.

He also knows countries that have focused their efforts on integral sexual education, including the promotion of pre-marital abstinence and the beauty of marital fidelity, have seen infection rates plummet. Uganda is the showcase for this more human approach. Uganda once had the highest infection rate in the world. In the 1990's, thirty percent of the country's population was infected; today the rate is down to about eight percent.

Although the Ugandan government also educated the population on condom use for protection against the virus, many HIV / AIDS experts credit the country-wide abstinence program launched in 1994, "True Love Awaits", for Uganda's great success in reducing infection rates. Schools and religious organizations got behind the government program and sexual habits changed.

Other African countries are watching and learning. Dorothy Kwenze, an HIV activist in neighboring Kenya was recently quoted saying, "Abstinence education remains the best strategy, especially for the risk group aged 15-25 years. The concept has worked well for Uganda and can work for other African countries".

Let's continue to debate how best to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus and how best to care for AIDS patients. But let's not be duped by shallow reporting that pits one helping hand against the other and only complicates the work at hand.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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