Ritesh K Srivastava
There seems to be no connection between a Pope and a condom. For the first is the supreme leader of Catholics, and the second is a known contraceptive for population control. However, these days, talks about condoms are incomplete without the mention of Pope Benedict XVI, who has opined that condoms complicate the fight against HIV/AIDS.
It seems that Pope Benedict XVI has developed a habit of courting controversies. The highest spiritual leader of Catholics, whose contribution in promoting world peace and harmony is unquestionable, has perhaps unintentionally been in news for all wrong reasons. This time, the Pope has landed himself in troubled waters over his assertions that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic – but were instead part of the problem.
His latest anti-condom remarks have faced strong condemnation from several countries across the globe and even the United Nations has termed it as “highly irresponsible” and “dangerous”.
And if it was not enough for the pontiff, he courted another controversy prior to touring the African continent when he lifted the 20-year excommunication of a British bishop, who has denied the Holocaust.
The Pope has in the past faced the wrath of the Islamic world over his ‘derogatory remarks’ on the Prophet Mohammed and the Holy War in 2006. He made headlines when he quoted a medieval Christian emperor, who said Islam had only brought the world "evil and inhuman" things, while delivering a speech in his native Germany.
His remark, which was a small part of a lengthy speech on the rapprochement of faith and reason, gave the Muslim world a reason to attack the Vatican for hurting their religious sentiments.
The Pope later backtracked at the height of this controversy and tried to pacify the infuriated Muslims by saying that he was “deeply sorry” over his controversial remarks.
Pope made this remark just two months ahead of his first visit to Turkey – an Islamic State. Interestingly, his maiden visit was aimed at mending the Vatican’s ties with the Muslim world.
An Unpopular Leader
The pontiff, who succeeded Pope John Paul II and took over the Papacy as the head of the Roman Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City State on 19 April 2005, is increasingly becoming an unpopular spiritual leader.
During his nearly four-year tenure, the German pontiff has drawn criticism from the Muslims, Jews and members of his own flock by issuing controversial statements, one after another.
All this has once again put the Vatican in a damage control mode as it has defended the Pope several times in the past. The Vatican sought to defuse the row, explaining that the Pope wanted to emphasise responsible sexual conduct. It sought to tweak his original remarks in a version posted on the Holy See`s website.
The Vatican has now quickly moved to calm feelings aroused by Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on HIV and the use of condoms.
Industrialised states such as France, Germany and Belgium have categorically disapproved the papal view. The UNAIDS agency has maintained that condoms are an integral part of the battle against the scourge of HIV, which infects more than 7,000 people a day.
The French Foreign Ministry rejected the Pope’s comment as a “serious threat to public health policies."
In the Pope’s native Germany, the government, while underlining the importance of condoms as an effective contraceptive measure said, “Condoms save lives, in Europe as well as on other continents."
The Pope’s remark has come at a time when the international community is desperately trying to find an effective solution to curb this menace, which has infected nearly 42 million people worldwide.
The 2007 report released by UNAIDS/ WHO on the scourge of AIDS/HIV says that over 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. Africa alone has 11.6 million AIDS orphans. At the end of 2007, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa. Young people (under 25 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide. In developing and transitional countries, 9.7 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 2.99 million (31%) are receiving the drugs.
It further states that over two-thirds – 67% of the world`s HIV sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa and three-quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007 took place there.
UN figures from 2007 show that more than five percent of adults among Cameroon’s estimated 18.9 million population have the disease.
Papacy – A Disaster
The Pontiff’s repeated gaffes and the Vatican`s inability to defend his words in today’s technology-driven era are threatening to undermine his papacy. This pontiff’s tenure is in fact proving to be a `disaster`.
The statement issued by Pope reflects "a dangerous doctrinaire vision" and it also suggests that the highest spiritual leader of Catholics is in fact isolated. He has perhaps not learnt from his past mistakes and probably fails to consult his advisors before making such utterances, which brings his sacred office in bad light.
The Pope also seems to be out of touch with the real world, and having a conservative mindset at a time global health bodies and respective governments are educating individuals about a responsible sexual conduct.
The Pope’s advisors perhaps need to drive home the point about the responsibility his remarks carry due to his influence on millions of the faith worldwide.
It is a proven fact that condoms help in fighting AIDS and this notion has got acceptance among the priests and bishops in Africa, where followers of the Catholic Church are fast growing.
There is no one denying the fact that HIV scourge is such a tragedy, which cannot be overcome by money alone. For combating HIV/AIDS educating the people about the disease and preventive measures is a must.
HIV/AIDS is for sure a cruel epidemic which not only kills, but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent. An assessment done by the WHO says that "consistent and correct" use of condoms can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 90%.
Such remarks by the Pope can only add confusion at a time when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million.
An effective measure as a contraception cannot be swept aside just on the basis of archaic concepts of religion alone. Day to day life problems need practical solutions, especially if they help to save lives. For saving someone’s life is the highest religion.