Apparently finding a way to bend church rules to allow divorced Catholics to receive communion is a more pressing concern for Pope Francis than the life-and-death issue of AIDS. The pope who has bent over backwards to find a “pastoral” solution to the problem of divorced Catholics showed no such compassion for those living with HIV/AIDS when asked on his return flight from his African visit if the church should change its prohibition on condom use given the continued spread of the virus.
Francis replied with an obtuse mixture of parable and exegesis that made it clear he saw little flexibility in the teaching:
The question seems too small to me. It seems to me also like a partial question. The morality of the church is found on this point, I think, in front of a perplexity. Fifth or Sixth commandment? Defend life, or that sexual relations be open to life? This is not the problem. The problem is bigger.
This question makes me think of what they asked Jesus one time: ‘Tell me, master, is it licit to heal on the Sabbath?’ Malnutrition, exploitation of persons, slave work, lack of drinking water. These are the problems.
I do not like to descend into reflections that are so casuistic when people are dying. I would say to not think if it is licit or not licit to heal on the Sabbath. I say to humanity: Make justice, and when all are healed, when there is not injustice in this world, we can speak of the Sabbath.
While no one would argue that HIV/AIDS isn’t entangled in larger problems like poverty and exploitation, it seems astounding that the pope won’t acknowledge either the severity of the crisis or the role of condoms in saving lives right now, not in some mythological future when justice reigns and “all are healed.”
“I found it to be unbelievable to be so dismissive with the wave of a hand, especially coming right before World AIDS Day,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, told RD. “For a pope who displays sensitivity on so many issues to be so absolutely tone deaf is misinformed and misguided. I don’t think he has much empathy, since it’s the poorest communities who suffer the most from HIV.”
According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 37 million people living with HIV/AIDS and some two million people were newly infected in 2014. Sub-Saharan African remains the global hot spot, with 26 million infected people and 70 percent of new infections.
Even the considerably more theologically hardline Pope Benedict said that condom use could be the lesser of two evils when it came to a person who is HIV positive thwarting the spread of the disease as a “the first step of responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of the person with whom there are relations.”
Despite Benedict’s comments, Catholic bishops in African have continued to take a hard line against condoms and actively discourage their use. In June, 45 bishops from 40 African countries signed the Common Declaration of the Bishops of Africa and Madagascar, which called the “billions of dollars allotted to the production and distribution of condoms” a “scandal.”
Last year, the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference deplored the provision of condoms by international aid organizations, calling it “a radical and faceless culture of death which promotes among other things the supply and use of the condom in our schools.”
And referring to billboards sponsored by Catholics for Choice as part of its “Good Catholics Use Condoms” World AIDS Day campaign, Kenyan Archbishop Peter Kairo said, “As the Catholic Church we are not promoting use of condoms. I don’t agree with the advertisements on the billboards and newspapers that say Catholics believe in sex which is sacred and that they believe in using condoms.”
“The hierarchy’s ill informed war against condoms goes on,” said O’Brien, who noted that these same bishops “are very often involved in the administration of Catholic charities, who take money from governments around the world, including USAID, believing in essence that the earth is flat and condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV.”