Last week I blogged on the subject of abortion. Whilst I support the Catholic Church’s general stance on the rights of the unborn child I did stress that I personally rejected many of its views on sexuality and the use of condoms.
By coincidence last week also saw the first visit to Africa by Pope Benedict where he stated: “[AIDS] cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.
Now the furore that surrounded the Pope’s comments on condoms and AIDS completely obliterated the strong message he delivered to the people of Angola decrying the “clouds of evil” over Africa that have spawned war, tribalism and ethnic rivalry that reduce poor people to slavery. It should have been that theme that was remembered by the world but instead we have to contemplate the damage the Pope has done to the fight against AIDS, a battle by the way in which many Catholics, laity and clergy, play a major role.
Today I received an email from the human rights group Avaaz seeking support for its campaign on this important issue. I have featured the work of Avaaz on this blog in the past and I will certainly do so in the future.
Avaaz states: “The Pope’s statement is at odds with the research on AIDS prevention, and a setback to decades of hard work on AIDS education and awareness. With powerful moral influence over more than 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and 22 million HIV positive Africans, these words could dramatically affect the AIDS pandemic and put millions of lives at risk.
“This is not a religious dispute, but a grave public health concern. Personal beliefs of Catholics and all people should be respected, and the Pope's advocacy for a culture of fidelity and respect could be effective in AIDS prevention if condom use were not also discouraged. The Catholic Church engages in a vast amount of social service work, including the care of those living with AIDS. But the Pope’s claim that condom distribution is not an effective AIDS prevention mechanism is not supported by research. It’s untrue, and if it diminishes condom use, it will be deadly.
“The fact is, HIV and AIDS are prevented by condom use. There is no easy solution to the spread of this tragic disease, but condoms and education are the best known prevention combination and have not been found to increase risky sexual behaviour. That is why even priests and nuns working in Africa have questioned the Pope’s statements.
“We may not be able to ask the Catholic Church to change its broader position, but we are asking the Pope to stop actively speaking out against prevention strategies that work. It’s important that people of all beliefs, especially Catholics, call on the Pope to exercise care in his leadership on this issue. Sign below then spread the word to your friends and family - this petition could actually save lives.”
Of course both the laity and clergy in the Catholic Church, who have to deal with the daily reality of life and death, have often taken a different stance and action to those who spend their lives secluded in the Vatican Palace. Those of us who are Catholics, lapsed or practicing, have a special responsibility in this regard to make our voices heard and to ensure they do not fall on deaf ears.
Please support the Avaaz petition.