Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Pope, Condoms, and AIDS

A guest post by JS:

As many of you who follow the news as obsessively as I do probably read this week, the Pope is on his first trip to the continent of Africa (see here). During his flight to Africa, the Pope addressed questions from the press. One of those questions dealt with the current AIDS crisis in Africa in which more than 22 million people, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, are estimated to be infected with HIV (see more here). The question specifically dealt with the issue of condoms: Should condom use be encouraged in Africa as a way of stemming the HIV/AIDS epidemic? The question is particularly relevant as Africa has roughly 160 million Catholics making it one of the largest Catholic bastions in the world.

The Pope's emphatic answer? No. Not only are condoms not part of the solution, they're actually part of the problem. Basically, the Pope said that condoms are not just forbidden explicitly by the Church, but they decrease sexual morality. The Pope instead advocated that the solution to HIV/AIDS is abstinence and marital fidelity.

The Pope's response is especially troubling when many in Africa don't even believe HIV/AIDS is a real disease and/or believe condoms and drugs to suppress HIV are tools of the West to kill off Africans. The Pope also ignores the rampant problems of rape and sexual assault as well as "healers" who roam the continent having sex with women who need to be "cured." To me, this is yet another reason why the Church is increasingly irrelevant and is distancing itself from its adherents (especially in more liberal countries).

Perhaps a more interesting way of looking at the issue is this: How do you think a Jewish Gadol HaDor would respond? Imagine the Gadol is making the trek to Africa, where, instead of 160 million Catholics, he's addressing 160 million backwards, poor, starving, ignorant Jews. The same question is posed to the Gadol - should the Jews who are suffering from this terrible disease use condoms? Or should they be told condoms are prohibited by Halacha and instead they should abstain from pre-marital sex and stay faithful to their partners?

If the Gadol's answer is the same as the Pope's, are we too in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant?

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