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.