Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Misrepresenting Benedict’s Bravery"

Matthew Hanley, author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, writes about the Pope and AIDS at The Catholic Thing:
Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about condoms and AIDS – or rather confusing manipulations of those remarks – are reverberating around the world. But they do not represent the change in his thought or Catholic teaching that the media have vigorously claimed, however much progressive or dissenting theologians, and perhaps even some papal aides, wish otherwise. And they are not a vindication of public health authorities who have, for decades, unsuccessfully advocated technical means of battling sexually transmitted epidemics, while refusing to emphasize the kinds of behaviors that would avoid infection altogether.

The New York Times tells us the pope’s words, in the newly published book Light of the World, were received with “glee from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is worst.” The pope as anachronistic obstacle to global health has long been a fashionable narrative. But consider: decades of robust condom promotion (and other technical interventions) utterly failed to curb Africa’s AIDS epidemics, and common-sense changes in sexual behavior accounted for Africa’s handful of AIDS declines. Is one misrepresented remark from the pontiff now to do what lavish and sophisticated condom campaigns couldn’t? Public health leaders should be carefully scrutinized. They, not the pope, are explicitly charged with containing epidemics.
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