Summer 2009

HIV and Condoms Within Marriage

Anthony Fisher

“It is never the role of the Church, or of its agencies, pastors, or members, to help people do wrong things more efficiently or safely. Nor is it ever the role of the Church just to say no and abandon people.”

On his way to Cameroon earlier this year Pope Benedict XVI dared to suggest that the distribution of condoms was not the solution to the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa and may actually make it worse. Western commentators immediately reacted with feigned outrage. “Impeach the Pope!” wrote a columnist in the Washington Post. “Grievously wrong!” ruled the New York Times. “This Pope is a disaster,” said the London Telegraph. “Ignorance or ideological manipulation,” declared The Lancet. “Unacceptable,” thundered the Belgian parliament. Feigned outrage all this, because the pundits knew this was the well-established position of the Church1—one shared by more than a few AIDS experts.2

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1. Pope Benedict had in fact already made similar points in several places: “Address to the Bishops of South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, and Lesotho,” 10 June 2005; “Interview on the Way to Bavaria,” 5 August 2006; “Address to the Ambassador of Namibia to the Holy See,” 13 December 2007.

2. Helen Epstein, The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against AIDS (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); Edward Green and Allison Ruark, “AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right,” First Things 182 (April 2008):22–26; Edward Green, et al., “A Framework of Sexual Partnerships: Risks and Implications for HIV Prevention in Africa,” Studies in Family Planning 40, no. 1 (2009): 63–70; Matthew Hanley, “AIDS and ‘Technical Solutions,’” Ethics & Medics 33, no. 12 (December 2008): 1–3; Matthew Hanley, Jokin de Irala, and Christina Lopez, Avoiding Risk, Affirming Life: What the West Can Learn from Africa (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2009); Norman Hearts and Sanny Chen, “Condom Promotion for AIDS Prevention in the Developing World: Is It Working?” Studies in Family Planning 35 (March 2004): 39–47; Chinwuba Iyizoba, “Bleak Stories Behind Failed Condom Campaigns,” Mercatornet, 2 April 2009; Genevieve Pollock, “AIDS Worker Says Africans Don’t Need Condoms,” Zenit, 25 March 2009; Malcolm Potts, et al., "Reassessing HIV Prevention,” Science 320 (5877) (9 May 2008): 749–50; James Shelton, “Ten Myths and One Truth About Generalised HIV Epidemics,” The Lancet 370 (9602) (1 December 2007): 1909–11.