Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Curious Case of the Pope and Dr Green

Pope Benedict’s recent comment on condom usage in Africa has sparked a firestorm of comment and counter-comment.

Liberals have accused the Vatican of promoting their religious dogma over public health. Catholics and their apologists have responded that the Pope was right: research shows distributing condoms just make things worse.

In their latest salvo, apologists have pointed to Dr. Edward C. Green, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. Their claim is that he agrees with the Pope.

This comes from a recent interview with Dr. Green, conducted by Christianity Today’s Tim Morgan:

Morgan: Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?
Dr. Green: This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it's unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments — at least his major comments, the ones I have seen.

It’s not quite the ringing endorsement apologists would like to pretend it is. And if we look closer at what Dr. Green actually thinks, it’s obvious that his views are being conveniently twisted by the Catholic PR machine into something they’re not.

In today’s Washington Post, Dr. Green makes his position clear:

In Uganda's early, largely home-grown AIDS program, which began in 1986, the focus was on "Sticking to One Partner" or "Zero Grazing" (which meant remaining faithful within a polygamous marriage) and "Loving Faithfully." These simple messages worked.

Don't misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship.

There are two separate issues at play here.

On one side we have a debate about the efficacy of disease control methods in Africa. There, Dr. Green’s research has shown that promoting both monogamy and condom usage has been the most effective method of slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Uganda. In this 2003 paper, Dr. Green details why this has been a more effective solution than relying on condom distribution alone.

On the other side, we have the Vatican and their moral view that condoms should never be used. When Pope Benedict made his comment, this was what he was promoting.

Here’s the point: the Vatican’s view has nothing to do with the condom’s efficacy in disease control. It’s Catholic church dogma wholly relating to their opinions on appropriate sexual behaviour and their moral opposition to contraception.

Pointing out Dr. Green’s “support” for the Pope is an attempt to bolster this dogmatic position, but any suggestion that the Vatican’s view is based on any kind of science is laughable.

The fact remains that availability of condoms and appropriate education on how to use them is a cornerstone of HIV/AIDS control programs.

The Pope’s implication that availability of condoms makes things worse is at best incredibly irresponsible, and at worst an evil and cynical attempt to promote religious dogma at the expense of public health.

This is a debate about disease control and nothing more. Dr. Green’s research, the research of others working in the field and the science behind are all that’s important.

The moral position of the Pope and the religious dogma of the Catholic Church are utterly irrelevant.


ZAROVE said...

Thanks for the deception again, Mathew.

I never said that Green thought condom use was bad, in fact, I used him because he thought it was good, and because his political views are Liberal.

That was the poijt of my argument.

In the other blog post, you claimed that no one who has looked at the evidence could possibley arrive at the ocnclusion that distributiion of COndoms and educaiton as to their use coudl help aggrivat the problem of the HIV pandemic in Africa.

THus, I showed you someone who was not a Cahtolic, and whose personal views often contradict the Cahtolic position, who is neverhteless in a position as an expert, in order to refute your claim that only Cahtolics (Or perhaps Christians generlaly) hold to this proposition.

Since my only concern was to notify you of a non-Cahtolic who agreed withthe Pope on the overall matter, who is also a Scientist who has studied the topic, it is, at the very least, disingenious of you to classify this as shockign enws, that Green thinks COndoms shoudl be made available to all, or is a Liberal, or is not Christian.

That was my whole poitn to begin with.

Instead of asusmign I dont get my facts right and am a CHristain who just CHerry picks, and can be put in his palce by the brilliant midn of an Ahtiest, why don't yu just admit that the Pope wans't as stupid and clalry wrongheaded in his view as you'd originally stated he was?

Are you incapable of admitting such an error?

ZAROVE said...


You misrepresent Dr. Greens position too. In your zeal to see suppor for COndoms, you claim tjat Greens idea is that COndom use and faihtfulness are needed. Actulaly Green said COndom use shuld be seen as a backup, not as part in parcel wiht Monogomy.

There is a difference.

All that said, I shoudl also take this oportunity to note that the Catholic Churhces position on Condoms is not relaly them beign Cynicle and evil, its their deeply help conviction, which can be justified on Rational Grounds.

And thats the point. I don't think Dr. Green woudl nessisarily claim the Cahtolic position is Irrational much less Evil, neither shoudl anyoen else.

THey have reaosns for thier beleifs, which even if you disagree, you shoudln't simply declare evil or cynicle.

I actulaly think you will find Cahtolics, the Pope included, honeslty beelive what tey say about COndom use, and out of this sincere conviciton act. THis makes them neither Cynicle, nor evil, and woudl be the Antethesis of placing dogma above actulaly helpign people.

It is actulaly mroe evil for you to twist and distort them into beign cynicle and evil, and you do this only to bolster your Anti-Christian sentiments.

Cath said...

Matt, I wholeheartedly agree with you on your points. I'm often asked questions about my job as a nurse and HIV counselor, and how I can possibly do my work and offer young people advice about sex and be a Christian at the same time... "Don't my religious views conflict with my professional ones?"

The answer is: Yes, sometimes. But while I hold true to my faith and believe it with all my heart, I understand others don't always share the same faith, nor do I have the right to interfere in someone being able to make an informed decision which could significantly affect their own wellbeing.

My job demands an unbiased educative approach; people need to know the FACTS. It is a statistical fact that condom use is one of the most effective ways to prevent [most] STI’s being passed from one person to another. “According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health, correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years.” Source: (easiest to access at this time).

The Catholic Church (as opposed to "Christians"), have their own agenda, and it's pretty clear that the health and wellbeing of people at risk is not their top priority - fear is. Not fear unto Salvation, but rather fear unto “following the Catholic Church or burning in Hell” – they’re not preaching Christ, they’re preaching Catholicism.

Christ (as opposed to Catholicism) preaches love, faith, charity and so on (and yes, abstinence was in there too); but with the knowledge we have today, it's completely un-loving, un-charitable and in my eyes un-faithful to those we seek to "help", to allow them to do things that put themselves at risk without some form of education (which I believe is the point of Dr Greens statements).

Condoms alone aren't the solution to these woes, but in the absence of abstinence in this day and age (and let’s keep things in context of our social arena today, as the Bible infers we do), then they’re the most educationally responsible and morally charitable thing I can think of to educate people about. What the Pope has said is not only educationally unsound but dangerous.

If people are going to have sex outside of marriage (I know Australian stats indicate that 1:4 16year olds are engaging in sex and 1:3 usually unprotected with significant risk to Chlamydia infection – put that into some sort of context for under-developed Nations and HIV and you’ll be afraid), then my purpose as a Christian is to educate, witness, help and restore. I will not stand back and let people infect themselves and others with STI’s like HIV - for which there is no cure, without at least offering them the facts.

Irresponsibly telling people not use condoms almost equates putting yourself in God’s shoes as their judge and juror – and we’re not God.. but neither thankfully, is the Pope.

As followers of Christ we are not called to “punish” those who do not believe as we do, we’re called to use common sense and discernment in our lives, and we’re called to witness the truth, not withhold it!

P.S. Oh and Zarove, without meaning to offend - might I suggest a spell checker?

ZAROVE said...

Cath, Im dyslexic, and Im not Cahtolic. Before that coems up.

However, the accusation that the Cahtolci Chruch has its own agenda and is heartless, and the ever-so-modern and politiclaly correct attitude that epopel have the riht o disagree terefore the Cahtolci CHurhc is wrong to voice its concern areboth off.

Lets start withthe latter.

It is obvious that those who beleive that the distribution fo COndoms habe the right ot speak, and no one is offended by this. Yet, somehow, the Cahtolci Chuhc is offensive at the highest level for makign its own advisory statemens in line wiht is beleifs.

Why is that?

I'd say its because as a culture we have conditioned ourselves to treat CHruches as "Religiosu bodies" and have bought the whole concept that they ought to keepo it ot themselves, but other Religons, like Matts Humanism, which liek to pretend they aren't religions, have every riht tot he puboic squar eint he name of helpign Humanity.

In a truely fairh and liberated society, all voices woudl have the right to be heard, and I do htink that actign as if the Cahtlic CHurhc is beign oppressive ot free speech by merley utilising its own right to free speech is really ridiculous.

That said, I also don't buy into the Anti-Cahtolic mentality that says they ar eout to have us all fea the Chruch and carenothign for people, and certianly can't say this is proven by their acitosn here.

The Cahtolci Church sincerley beelives that COndom use is mrolaly wrong and causes further problems, and as I said already, if this is a sincere beleif then it wudl be mrolaly repugnant not to issue its warnigns and to try to halt the use of them.

This isn't some sort of cruelty on their part, it just makes common sense when you relalythink abotu it without hte idea htta CHuches shoudl remain silent int he fac of "Secular" oposition, whch is just as Ideologiclaly driven, o that the Catholic HCurhc has ot be seen as some sort of enemy.

Matt said...


Thanks for that comment. Very insightful.


This isn't a question of religious opinion. It's a question of facts.

Condoms are either an effective method for controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS or they're not.

As Cath said, condom use has been proven as one of the most effective methods we have. And the suggestion that condoms make the sitation worse is not only wrong, it's dangerous.

I don't care if the Pope sincerely believes what he's saying. The fact is that he's wrong.

And the facts are the facts.

ZAROVE said...


This isn't a question of religious opinion. It's a question of facts.

Actually, Mathew, it is a quesiton of Religiou opinion. Thats why you wrote your original article in the first place, to use as a vehicle to further Critisise the Pope, and by extension all of the Catholic Church, and from there Christendom generally. This is plainly evident on this blog, and in the article that originated this.

You aren't interested in the Scientific Facts, you ar einterested in attacking the Christian Faith, you arne't even intereste din helping Humanity, only in attacking CHristendom.

And in this matter, your views on condom use are based enturley upon your Humanist suppositions nd your need to posit them as the Antetheiss to Christian thinking, in order to attack Christianity ( Or in this case just Catholisism) as beign dangerous and backwards and harmful.

It very much is a matter of Religious Opinion, Mathew.

Condoms are either an effective method for controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS or they're not.

But the point is, the matter is far form settled. It isn't as lealry decided as you'd like to pretend it is, just as you pretend its a simpe issue whn in factits quiet complexe.

To say that the issue is already settled is far too arrogant, since one can eaisly look at the Medical reports that have critisise d the plan, that do not extend only to Dr. Green.

Numerous worker sin Africa, andnot just Catholic ones, or even just Christan ones, have noted how ineffective the distribution fo COndoms and educationa s to their use is in haultign the outbreak, and many have even noted the same thing as Pope Benedict the 16th, that the problems grow worse when such meaasures are taken.

He is harldy alone, nor are the Cahtolic collectivley, inthis assertion.

You may wish to follow your view, and htis is well and good, but to condemn another for his view, a view which can, in fact, be backed up by reason and evidence, simply beause you have a personal problem with Christianity is not really acceptable.

You shoudl learn Tolernce, Mathew, and not simply condemn those who dare to counteract hat you beleive.

Of ocurse we know that this isn't really about COndom use, and you wheren't really outragedby it, but where outraged by CHristianity, which you need to demonise to justify your departure form it, and because critisism of Christianity is linked to that which promoted your Atheism in the form of the books you read.

Still, I hold no anisity for those on either side of the debate over the role of COndoms in Africa to stem the tide of HIV infections, nor do I think either sides proponants worhty of contemot, nor do I disparage them for their views. You, on the other hand, do.

And htis is the point I am raising. You shoudl not condomn others for their views simply because you disagree with them; least of all shoudl you assign tothem malicious intentions and act as if its plainly obivous thatt they do not care about real lives simply because their beleifs on the matter and hwat will help are not wehat you personally hold to.

Tnhat is the Antethesis of toleration, and in fact it is a form of maliiousnes sin and of itself, and this is what I am addressing in you.

As Cath said, condom use has been proven as one of the most effective methods we have. And the suggestion that condoms make the sitation worse is not only wrong, it's dangerous.

By whom? Do I need to find others besides Green who would vouche for the quesitonable assertions lack of conensus? Do I need to post actual medical reports? Just how far shoudl I go with this before you realise that what the Pope said is not, in fact, siply superstitious gobbldygoop he prefers over real life btu can be intellecutlaly defended?

The truth is, there is a debate in the Scientific COmmunity abot the current "Use a condom" mentality they had fostered throughout the 1980's and 1990's, and nowadays the Scientific COmmunity has lessened its stance on theissue, and many have utright rejected condoms as the soluton, though woudl still use them either supplimentarily or in case of preventign unintended pregnancies.

To pretend that the matter is simple and clewar cut doens't relaly do justice to the debate, and to pretend that all peopel who look honeslty atthe evidence agrees with your simplistic assertions and htus the pOpe must be malicious is simply not sustainable in light of the actual compelxity of the real arugment.

In fact, I woudl find it far more dangerous to take tyouyr attitude. You allow for no debate on the topic at all, for the matter is settled. Condoms work, and will reduce HIV, and nayone who says otherwise is a dangeour lunatic. Agree with me or be cosigned to the dustbin of hisotry!

Sorry, Mathew, but what if your wrong? This doens't enter into our arrogant mind, but givin that you stalworthly refuse to even consider the popion, if left in charge, you'd repeat the policy, see HIV rate sincrease, then try to add yet more condoms to make up for th eincrease, only to see it get worse. You'd never blame the condom distirbution plan itself, because you woudl refuse to quesiton it.

Allowing a dialouge to occure and letting people see the evidence for both sides and consider it is much better than simply applyign a draconian absolutism you do, for it allows one party to be wrong, or perhaps the truth to be in the middle as a Hegalian Synthesis, rather htan just assumignen is right and persisting.

I don't care if the Pope sincerely believes what he's saying. The fact is that he's wrong.

You have no actual evidence that he is wrong, though, and many who work as NGO's, aid workers, and missionaries in Non-Catholic Missions woudl dispute your bold assertion.

You have no real reason to conclude he can't possibly be right, you have only the assumption that he is wrong base don a priori biases an dprejudiices, which ultimaltey ar elinked to your religious opinions on the topic,which arne't considered at all.

And the facts are the facts.

And the facts arenot in support of your assertion that the Pope is malicius, neither do they support the idea that he places Dogma over helpign real people. THe Facts do nto support that he is clealry wrong and his beleifs lakc any intellectual warrent.

The only fact son display here are your own closed minded arrogancy, from which s far mroe dangerosu because you are an ininformed man who simply wishes ot lasjh out at the Pope and to promote your own religion of Humanism.

You have no facts ot support this stance of yours, and simply declarign the position factual doens't make it so. Truth isn't decide dby Fiat.

Matt said...


You're right, there is a debate in the scientific community about the use of condoms in Africa.

But the problem with that argument is that both sides of the debate advocate the use of condoms.

The debate is not about whether or not to provide condoms. The debate is about how much resourcing to put into abstinence education programs in addition to condom distribution.

No-one on either side of the debate is saying, as the Pope did, that condoms will make the problem worse.

The Pope's statement was purely a function of his religious view. It was not based on any sort of scientific reality.

ZAROVE said...


You're right, there is a debate in the scientific community about the use of condoms in Africa.

But the problem with that argument is that both sides of the debate advocate the use of condoms.

The debate is not about whether or not to provide condoms. The debate is about how much resourcing to put into abstinence education programs in addition to condom distribution.

Actually there are medical researchers who can be listed who argue that Condom distributiin shoudl be haulted.

So , no, this isnt a debate in rather or not absitnance education shoudl be used, and how much it shoudl be used, in addition to DCondoms. Its a debate on the issue of the hole scheme of distributing COndoms to counterat HIV and porecicely how effective this plan is.

The only reason you see it this way is because it allowes you to retain your prejudicial view. Before I listed Green, you would have argued that no one quesitosn COndom distribution as the solution at all, and now you have only slightly amended it to save face.

But the truth is, not every researcher actually agrees that the distribution fo COndoms is the solution, and nto all are arguing only for adding abstenanc eucaiton.

THat is simply not the way this debate is, and your still trying to simplify it to a point where its just relaly two sides and the Poeps side is completley irraitonal, even though you still haven't even engaged in the reasons behind why the Pope said that other than the "Dogma over compassion" claim.

No-one on either side of the debate is saying, as the Pope did, that condoms will make the problem worse.

Actually if you read Green, you will see that he has argued this. You accuse me of beign an apologist and twistign the facts, and of ocurse the implicaiton is that as an Ahtist you jst present the truth, but the reality is you are the one tesistign the matte here.

Green may not morlaly oppose condom use, and may see it as better than nothing, but he is acutlaly opposed to the distirbutionfo COndoms as a method to haultign the HIV pandemic.

His argument is essentially that COndoms are better than nothign at all, but he still thinks the plan overal is ineffective and has argued that it makes matters worse. So have others.

This isn't a quesiton of rathe ror not Absitnace shodul be included in addition to COndom distirbution, and even syaign hat still assumes COndoms are the top priority withhte other beign added as a suppliment to it.

This only shows your compleltey ignorant both of the Popes actual arguments, and of the Scientific debate as it is, and are ismply looking for a mean to justify your erlier position.

The Pope's statement was purely a function of his religious view. It was not based on any sort of scientific reality.

The whole "Science VS Religion" debate doens't exist anymore, Mathew, and to claim that soemones Religiosu VIew is somehow seperate form Sicnetific reality is in and of itself Philosophiclaly indefensable.

The Popes statement was based upon a very well researched and deeply reasoned philosophical outlook that does take into consideration modern Science and that is base don the practicle, real world aroudn him.

To claim otherwise may fulfill the role you hae assigned Religion as out of touch with reality and concerned with arbitrary turiles and nto reality, btu it also ignroes the lenghty literary history of the position that is eaisly available to you if you visit the Vaticans website, or nu,erous Philosophical and ethical sites.

Have you even read Humanie Vitae? Do you even know why the Cahtolci posiiton is as it is? Have you any udnerstanding at all about hwat this decision is based upon?

Or are you really just another on of the Neo-Atheists who just buys into the mths crrated in the Enlightenment that Religisu Doctirnes are created willie nilly out of nothing and are abritrary and absurd?

Because if you bothered to read the documents written by anyone in the Cahtolci CHurhc on the topic you iwll see the chain of thought is justified by years and years of extensive interaction with the peopels of the third world, and our own first world, numerous sicntific references (And no not out of context, these papers by the Vatican are freeely distirbuted even to secular Universities in many cases) and a long, hard, deep look at the human condition.

Your pretext of it beign purly a Religiosu FUnciton and not base don a Sicnetific reality ignroes the fact that Religiosu funciton itslf concerns itself with reality. You may wan tot beleive its all fantasy to justify your current Anti-Christain attitude, but it is about addresisng the uman condition int he real world, and htta is the point of Religion int he firts place.