Pope Benedict's statement yesterday that condoms are not the solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa elicited strong reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. Though the Pope's position was more or less known prior to his trip to Cameroon, the in-flight statement to reporters was his first explicit and official statement on the matter since he assumed the papacy four years ago, the AP reports.
According to the Canadian Press, both France and UNAIDS -- the United Nations agency that oversees the AIDS fight in Africa -- have issued public statements:
France "expresses its very strong concern about the consequences of the statements by Benedict XVI," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said. France is a traditionally Catholic country but is relatively liberal on social issues such as birth control.
In a statement Wednesday, UNAIDS said countries should use all available strategies to prevent the more than 7,400 new HIV infections every day worldwide. It made no mention of the pope but the statement came the day after Benedict's comments.
Also, the Washington Post reports statements from Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, criticizing the Pope's position:
Rebecca Hodes with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said if the pope was serious about preventing new HIV infections, he would focus on promoting wide access to condoms and spreading information on how best to use them.
"Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans," said Hodes, head of policy, communication and research for the organization.
However, going somewhat against the tide, the Telegraph's George Pitcher has come out in defense of Benedict, calling it a "category error" to expect the Pope to favor worldly solutions over the divine. Writes Pitcher:
So let me stick up for Benedict. He declares that the Church's historic teaching that chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it would prevent the spread of killer diseases such as Aids. Whatever your views on the subject, that simple statement is undoubtedly true. And Benedict is in the truth business.
But it is a category error to expect the Pope to concede that this is a divine solution to the human condition. It is of no earthly use - and I choose my words carefully - for him to compromise what his Church sees as God's truth. And his calling is to speak that truth. It's his job. That's what he is for.
Interestingly, Damian Thompson, also from the Telegraph, notes that the Pope's statement may not have been as absolute and hidebound as originally assumed. Though some may call it splitting hairs, a Vatican released transcript seems to reveal that Benedict was misquoted. From Thompson:
The Vatican has just published its transcript of the Pope's comments about Aids in Africa and it turns out be said that condoms risk making the problem worse:
Se non c'è l'anima, se gli africani non si aiutano, non si può risolvere il flagello con la distribuzione di preservativi: al contrario, il rischio è di aumentare il problema.
Maybe it doesn't make much difference, but the English-speaking press had the Pope saying that it "even aggravates the problems". Not quite the same resonance; not as headline-worthy.