March 21, 2013 | by Dave Purdy
Pope should endorse condoms

It appears many are holding their breath waiting to hear the new pope’s views on condoms and AIDS. A more effective course of action, I think, would be to pray, yes, definitely to pray.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, now Pope Francis, is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church. Since the new pope was announced, I’ve been searching for references that might shed some light on how he views AIDS. I found only a single instance: the then-Cardinal once washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients, presumably recreating Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples (John 13, 1-17).

He washed their feet. Wouldn’t it have been a greater healing for the church to loosen its stance on condom use?

Yes, I have read then-Pope Benedict XVI had wavered on the blanket prohibition, suggesting there’s some wiggle room in cases where such diseases as HIV might be transmitted.  Well, let’s set the record straight. What the former pope actually said is, “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”

Later, he added, “But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.  That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

Of course, the media and the AIDS and LGBT communities quickly offered their own interpretations of Pope Benedict’s words. But what’s noteworthy is that his comments on AIDS cannot be interpreted as easily as, say, his statements on life and faith. Some feel the former pope was trying to appear sympathetic as a way to deflect attention from the sex scandals that many feel are damaging the church’s stature and moral authority.

Enough with conjecture and varying interpretations. Here are facts: A condom prevents transmission of HIV and other STDs and also prevents pregnancy, if not 100 percent, pretty close to it – but only if used correctly. Fact: The Catholic Church does not support contraception, which includes the use of condoms. Period.

According to The Guardian, on issues of sex and “morality,” Pope Francis is solidly orthodox, rigidly conservative. Yet, on condom use, it appears he takes a more pragmatic view in instances where using a condom could prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases. But thus far, on such issues as sex, condoms and AIDS, Pope Francis remains silent. We can only speculate.

“Bergoglio is seen as unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception,” according to The National Catholic Reporter.

Here’s the bottom line.  If Pope Francis chooses to support the use of condoms to help stop the spread of HIV, there will be an almost immediate and global impact on the trajectory of this dreaded disease – which potentially could save millions of lives.

Now let’s talk about faith and AIDS. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has undertaken amazing humanitarian efforts to combat the spread of AIDS and HIV, since it launched its first such program in Uganda in 1989. Today, CRS has more than 280 HIV and AIDS programs in 62 countries across Africa and the hardest-hit regions of Asia and Latin America. In partnership with other faith-based and non-governmental organizations, CRS directly supports more than 4.8 million people affected by this pernicious epidemic.  Wow!

Here is another fact: Some faith-based AIDS programs push for abstinence only, but many also encompass sex education and condom use, as well.  The point is the faith-based community has stepped up and is making a strong and measureable difference.

The separation of church and state doesn’t mean separating faith and AIDS. It is our global faith that can end this epidemic once and for all.

Dave Purdy is founder and CEO of the World AIDS Institute. Reach him at dpurdy@worldaidsinstitute.org.

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