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Catholics, Condoms, and The AIDS Pandemic in Africa

Updated on December 18, 2013

Catholic Care in Africa

It is beyond dispute that the Catholic Church is the largest force in the provision of retroviral medications to those in Africa who have contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They further are involved in home care visits to those Afflicted with AIDS and counseling for the patients and family members effected by the active suffering of patients. In 2008 alone they spent upwards of $235 million in assistance to those effected by the African Pandemic of HIV infection and AIDS affliction. They have involved themselves in the treatment, care, and assistance of both the sick and their families in 28 countries in Africa. In 2011 there were 117,00 catholic Medical facilities to be found worldwide in developing nations involved in the amelioration of those suffering from AIDS and in active monitoring and medicating of those infected with HIV.

Cardinal Barragan rightly stated in 2006 before the UN general assembly that the Catholics Church is heavily involved in "the formation of doctors and related medical personnel, of chaplains and volunteers. We fight the stigma, facilitate testing, counseling and reconciliation. We provide anti-retrovirals and drugs to stop the vertical transmission (mother to child), and also promote measures to stop the blood contagion."

Theology and Medicine

But they have also imposed their theological doctrines upon the impoverished and credulous populous of Africa, by means of numerous campaigns stressing the morally vacuous and even evil nature of sex involving the use of contraceptives, stridently investing themselves in frivolous infection control models of abstinence-only education over comprehensive sex education models (which include prophylactic education). The former programs have an empirically proven ineffectualness in diminishing the infection coefficient in undeveloped and developed nations alike.

What's more high ranking Catholic officials have engaged in campaigns of active misinformation regarding the medically undisputed reduction of HIV transmission through the use of condoms. in 2003, in a blatantly untrue statement Cardinal Trujillo, the president of the Pontifical council for the Family, claimed in BBC interviews that the HIV virus was 450 times smaller than the apertures in condoms and that it easily passes through this highly ineffectual net created by condoms.

Further Catholic exaggeration presented to African patients and their family members concerning the possibility and frequency of leakage and breakage associated rarely with condom use has been used to misinform public sentiment concerning the security provided by condoms.

And, of course, the dissemination of condoms to at risk African populations is not part of the Catholic effort to stem infection, despite the undisputed medical consensus that this is the cheapest and most effective measure available in stemming the tide of HIV infection. Studies specifically on condom use and the spread of HIV show an 80% overall drop in new cases when condoms are used properly.

So from whence the disconnect, between medically agreed upon pragmatic stemming of HIV in Africa and the stridently anti-contraceptive stance of an organization so heavily invested in the issue?

Well this would seen to be a clash of modernity and church doctrine. Condoms of course, at least in large part, negate the procreative potential of sex, which is what lends any intrinsic meaning to sexual congress from a Catholic theological perspective. It is an overwhelming consensus amongst the Catholic authorities that sex involving contraceptive measures is evil. John Paul II in 1989, in an address to the Pontifical Council for The Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers stated that, "it seems profoundly damaging to the dignity of the human being, and for this reason morally illicit, to support a prevention of AIDS that is based on a recourse to means and remedies that violate an authentically human sense of sexuality, and which are a palliative to the deeper suffering which involve the responsibility of individuals and of society."

The Church's stance has been heavily descried as irresponsible and ineffectual by public health officials both in their flouting of the international medical consensus concerning the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV and in their reliance on abstinence-only sex education programs that have been shown in numerous studies to have no-effect on STI's and unwanted pregnancies amongst population in which they are employed independent of comprehensive sex education programs.

Remediating Problems of One's Own Making

It would seem the Catholic Church, through their unwavering stance on contraception and prophylactics of all kinds continually create two problems with which they must contend.

The first is poverty resulting from the overpopulation of developing nations already facing a dearth of nature resources, education, and opportunity. The universally accepted means by which a country is given the chance to develop is the empowerment of women over their reproductive cycles, thus allowing men and women alike opportunities for education and infrastructure development.

The second is the Pandemic of HIV/AIDS that is costing hundreds of millions annually in remediation by retroviral administration, not to mention untold death and suffering, that could be greatly ameliorated by preemptive means of infection control.

This seems to be a theme within Catholic ministry in undeveloped countries: The creation of a problem that gives them an opportunity to all too ostentatiously show their proclivities toward good works. The building of their reputation on the hunkered, suffering backs of the poor and disenfranchised by the remediation of the social ills that they themselves promulgate by anachronistic doctrine is a pattern that has been plainly evident and heavily criticized by secular humanitarians throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

This begs the question; is the Catholic Church a force of magnanimous good in the world or a source of moral perversion causing unquantifiable suffering?


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