Catholics on Condoms for AIDS in Africa


Recently the Pope visited Africa. While there, he was questioned about the Church’s prohibition on condom use in regard to the AIDS epidemic there. Here’s a little bit of what he said:

“I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.” – Pope Benedict XVI

It’s actually a very reasonable response. But of course the Main-Stream Media didn’t quite see it that way. Headlines rang out around the world, “Pope says ‘no’ to condoms” and “Pope tells Africa ‘condoms wrong.'”

Of course, these headlines reflect less what the Pope said and more what the media wanted to hear…as usual. Far from a scolding of condom use, the Pope actually articulated a very thoughtful position that reflects not only a sincere love for our fellow humans and a good moral foundation, but also scientific fact.

Condoms will not solve this problem – and they haven’t. But you won’t hear that from a childish condom culture.

They claim over and over again that their concern is with saving lives in Africa. But it is episodes like this that reveal their true motives – or at least biases. They already ‘know’ that condoms are the answer. Now they just have to get them into the hands of every person in the world. It’s the same mentality that wants to give condoms to kids here in the U.S. And they are very sincere in their efforts.

Unfortunately, you even have many Catholics out there who quite obviously have no idea of Church teaching or the theology of our bodies caught up in the same condom culture. And they impulsively rail against people like the Pope for not being thoughtful or realistic enough when it comes to these issues, when in fact it is actually they who live in a surprisingly unthoughtful reality.

They so desperately want to have the condom – this great symbol of freedom – condoned for the sake of their own conscience that they become blinded to the reality of its greater effects. They simplistically look at isolated, controlled scientific experiments on unique niche populations that of course show that the use of a condom in a specific instance lessens the chances of being infected with HIV. But at the same time they fail to look at the greater empirical results.

As our culture has greatly increased the availability and distribution of contraception over the past few decades, has the spread of STDs gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up. Has the number of average sexual partners for each person gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up. Has infidelity within marriage gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up.

And now we have more broken families, more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, more suffering from STDs as a result of all of that.

So with all of the great “success” we’ve had here in our “civilized” culture by increasing the availability and distribution of condoms, we now want to share that with less developed countries in Africa. That makes total sense. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Over the past few decades the global community has pumped billions of dollars in condoms into Africa to try and solve the AIDS epidemic. And what has been the result?

In the countries where condom distribution was increased the most we have seen increased infidelity, an increase in the number of sexual partners per person, and an increased number of AIDS infections. And yet we still have the media, ideologues, politicians and uninformed Americans clamoring for more condoms!

And then when the Pope very thoughtfully comes out and says, “the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem” he is ridiculed as being blindly ideological and dogmatic. Uhm, hello?

Further, it’s not as if the Pope simply criticized without offering better solutions. He went on to say that monogamy (fidelity within marriage) is the single best answer to African AIDS. And lo and behold, this is exactly what the empirical evidence supports. Imagine that.

The latest and best analysis of the results in Africa show that a reduction in the number of sexual partners is the most important single change in behavior associated with a reduction in HIV infection rates. And in countries like Uganda, where their own unique program has stressed abstinence and faithfulness as the top priorities, they have seen the greatest success in the world. Thank goodness other struggling countries like Swaziland and Botswana are starting to catch on too implementing similar campaigns.

This is not only being recognized by partisan groups, it’s being admitted by the scientific community – who has this thing for actually looking at the facts (something many politicians and ideologues don’t seem to care much for). Here’s a great article by a liberal, pro-condom research scientist that agrees with the Pope.  It’s got a lot of other good insights and facts behind the summary I’m hitting on here.  So definitely give it a read.

The point is that it’s a systemic problem – not a collectively individual one. We have to realize that throwing condoms at our problems not only doesn’t work, but it aggravates the greater problem. While it may help protect from an STD in a particular instance, it also fertilizes much deeper immoral monsters. And these monsters, just like they have torn apart our American moral fabric, have been unleashed and forced upon an unsuspecting and exorbitantly suffering population in Africa.

As the Church has consistently done, we must work for both the physical and moral health of our fellow human beings.  And as we see here, they are often tied up very closely together.

12 comments Add comment

Cindy April 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

The best prevention for a disease spread by promiscuous behavior is something that encourages promiscuity? Defies common sense, doesn’t it?

Kimi April 2, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Cindy, as Pope Benedict said, the best solutions come through humanizing human beings and in building friendships with the suffering. To put it more generally, the best solutions come from our love.

Until we can succeed in humanizing and befriending however, promiscuity, the norm without exception in many places, sadly continues. Saying that it shouldn’t does nothing to change that fact anyplace except perhaps in someone’s self-directed thoughts. We can only begin to change the fact of promiscuity through deep and direct love.

When promiscuity already dominates in some areas in spite of the death sentence associated with it, common sense says that condoms can and do prevent the spread of disease. Most importantly, they protect innocent wives from the expected promiscuous behavior of their husbands, behavior that the women are helpless to stop. By protecting married women, condoms can prevent some innocent children from becoming orphans and dying from neglect. A child with a living mother is also less likely to be forced into prostitution and repeat the cycle.

Of course, the pope is correct in saying that “the scourge can’t be solved by distributing condoms.” We need to do much more. But in the meantime, condoms can and do save innocent lives.

Aaron April 3, 2009 at 8:18 am

As John Ross said, “Common sense is what tells us the earth is flat.” Kimi, maybe it /seems/ like condoms would have to save innocent lives, but the evidence is clear that on balance they don’t. When reality defies what our common sense tells us should happen, we should check our assumptions, not just keep repeating them.

Matthew Warner April 3, 2009 at 8:37 am

Exactly Aaron. Kimi- you’re missing the point. While a condom may indeed help in preventing a specific instance of infection because of a rape, promisuity, etc. By introducing and distributing them we actually feed the bigger problem…making instances of rape, promiscuity more common while lowering the overall “humanization of sexuality” (what the Pope identifies as the source of the problem).

So while it can often seem like the loving thing to do in a particular instance, it actually is not the loving thing to do at all – because it perpetuates a bigger problem of suffering. If we truly LOVE them, then we must find OTHER ways to help.

albert April 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Sad to say, but abstinence is still a wishfull dream for many! sure norms are, should’s are, but this world is not inhabited by angels alone. human beeings are as they are: ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’Mt26:41. May be as an african, I’m more authorised to speak in the name of africans than many…beeing myself an african who lost friends and family members due to hiv/aids. Yes,Condom alone isn’t THE solution, but is it fair that the fault or failure of one would make perish entire family? have you ever counted the number of orphans (thousands and maybe millions), child deaths due to aids in africa? Even if condom were sin, it’s better to save innocent lives with that ‘sin’ than not to. Let’s say it again: flesh is weak, and aids is not only for prostitutes and wicked people, it happens to moral and religious people who just once sinned. preachers and nones get it, ‘happy couples’ get it… For one ‘failure’ you and me can get it and condemn our children and spouses… one single but fatal casuality can happen to the ‘best’ with or without condom. So as the ‘slogan’ says in my country: ‘abstinence yes, faithfulness sure, but if you can’t resist, then condom please’. God bless you!

Kayleigh April 3, 2009 at 5:39 pm

This is a great article…I will definitely be sharing it with some of my friends who were very confused about this issue. Thanks so much for being the voice of so many who are too busy, shy, etc to speak up.

Kimi April 7, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Thank you, Albert. I’m sad that in 5 days, no one here has responded to you. I would hope that if people care about Africans, they would be eager to learn more from you. It seems like people here are not willing to love you and me.

Albert, if you come back here, would you be willing to talk more about Africa? Have you seen any evidence that condoms would encourage rape there? It seems extremely unlikely to me. I’m also trying to understand why some people believe that where large numbers of people are already promiscuous that keeping condoms away from them would suddenly change their behavior if they’ve never had access to condoms in the first place. That seems like wishful thinking to me.

I am sad that no one here has shown concern for the babies who die after their innocent mothers die of AIDS. These women have had no way to refuse husbands who routinely have sex with other people. I have a deep abiding respect for life and it pains me to know that people do not care to offer viable solutions on how to save these mothers and their children. Perhaps they wish mothers and babies to die to teach the men a lesson. It’s easy from a distance to be righteous and have faith in our own expertise.

I’m also concerned that people here tell me I’m wrong and refer to evidence that they don’t cite or even summarize. Imaginary evidence? Why are they so eager to argue that I am wrong when they have shown no signs that they have made an attempt to understand or to clarify?

Matthew Warner April 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

“It seems like people here are not willing to love you and me”???

Just because somebody disagrees with you means you’re not loved? I’m very confused, Kimi.

And just because nobody responds on a blog comment section doesn’t mean you aren’t loved either. I think most people understand that. Most people have higher priorities in life than responding to endless comments on a random blog post.

Albert, I appreciate your insights. And I actually addressed most of them in the article and in subsequent comments. Which is partially why there was no need to respond.

Condoms – while they help in individual instances of physical health – actually make the overall problem worse. This is what the pope said. This is what the scientific research is now confirming.

Kimi, the source of the research was cited IN the actual blog post if you’re interested.

Austin April 12, 2009 at 7:00 pm

It’s an interesting issue. But the thing is kind of divided on solutions and issues.
–1) condoms are far too accessible. (granted that NOW reducing them would only increase the number of issues for a large period of time)
–2) sexual education is about as effective as most other educations. Common sense in each generation is receding. It’s a trait that is being lost as time goes by.
Condoms, like abortion, were made to solve a problem. But Condoms, like abortion, were made too accessible and made to be everyday things.
So the issue all in all cannot be blamed on any one party as much as seen to be something worth fixing.

We cannot simply get rid of condoms. Isn’t gonna happen. But the education of them, the education towards our selves can be bettered.
I don’t know how we can better it or make it more effective but surely I’m working on it.

Margaret April 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

People, please. Be a critical reader of BOTH sides of this complex issue.

You seem to be adept at conveying seeming ‘truths’ with nary a cited source in the whole mess. Here are some of of your gems of wisdom: “As our culture has greatly increased the availability and distribution of contraception over the past few decades, has the spread of STDs gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up. Has the number of average sexual partners for each person gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up. Has infidelity within marriage gone up or down? It’s gone drastically up.”

You then sum up your “findings” with, “And now we have more broken families, more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, more suffering from STDs as a result of all of that.”

Interesting. And counter to an actual report with actual numbers:…the rates of divorce, STDs and # of sexual partners have decreased up to 5-fold since the 1970s. If you choose to interpret the data from year to year, you may spin the story however you like. However, the lifetime trends are very clear, and not very compelling for your argument.

By the way, I am a monogamous married Catholic. But also a critical reader and thinker.

Matthew Warner April 16, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Margaret – thanks for the thoughts. But now you’re skewing the stats to say what you want.

These points are getting a little off topic, but if you truly want to find the stats to support what I am generally claiming, they are very easy to find.

Further, the study I DO link to in this post shows exactly the point I’m making – That the introduction of Condoms into Africa has shown to make the problem worse, not better. I’m not sure how that’s not enough critical thinking for you.

“The life time trends are very clear”? I think so too, and they certainly don’t start in the 70’s. Come on. Some of this activity may have peaked in the 70s by some standards or measurements, but that is hardly the “life time trend”! Further, measuring these things has gotten more complex in subsequent decades for many reasons.

For example, with divorce, we now have unprecedented numbers of couples living together outside of marriage. So while divorce rates may have stabilized, the overall problem has gotten far worse.

And much of the stabilization of divorce rates has occurred as a result of adults having experience the sadness of divorce first hand. So they respect marriage more. Condoms certainly were not the reason for such stabilization!

At the heart of all these problems is a disrespect for the human person and human sexuality. Contraception continues to disrespect that at the very foundation of it all. It will not fix our problems.

Ms. Abominable April 16, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Of course the underlying problem with the African AIDS epidemic isn’t solely condom usage and “dehumanizing sexuality”. It’s politics and the economy keeping single mothers poor and forcing them to sell sex to support their families. No condom means more money for food. It’s ignorance and superstition that make AIDS infected men believe taking a girl’s virginity will cure them.

It’s self-appointed authority oversimplifying the problem to “condoms are just as bad as AIDS”. Maybe people would be more inclined to use the condoms they’ve been provided if they weren’t being told condoms are essentially useless.

The whole issue is more complicated than either side typically tries to portray it and I agree with what Albert said: Abstinence yes, faithfulness sure, but if you can’t resist, then condom please.

Previous post:

Next post: