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Condoms only a possible first step to AIDS prevention

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In a book-length interview by Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, Pope Benedict XVI made comments on condoms which are raising all sorts of reactions. 

UNAIDS welcomes the Pope’s statement as 'a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican.” Some sections of the international media went on to publish that the Pope had condoned the use of condoms for HIV prevention, while some others remark that the position of the Church has not changed. 

One may wonder, what did the Pope really say or mean? Is there any implication of these comments on the pastoral approach of Church institutions involved in the fight against AIDS?

A close reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms in this book shows that he neither made any shift in the teaching of the Church nor justify the use of condom, as claimed by many institutions and media. He reaffirms the Church’s view, according to which condoms are far from resolving the issue of HIV infection. 'More needs to happen”, he says.  

He goes on to stress that a fixation on condoms leads to a banalisation of sexuality. 

And to him this banalisation of sexuality, which makes it appear as a mere product, 'a drug that people may administer to themselves”, distorts the perception of sexuality in what it entails as a positive value and potentiality to produce a positive effect on a person in his or her wholeness. 

An effective way of fighting HIV infection cannot go without integrating the fight against the banalisation of sexuality. This point made by the Pope constitutes a question to the whole human society on its perception of sexuality: what is our vision of a sexuality worthy of humanity?  In fact, the Pope presents the humanization of sexuality as the true way to combat the evil of HIV infection. 

A condom definitely reduces – not cancels – the risk of HIV transmission; but banalisation of sexuality increases vulnerability to HIV infection.

To come back to the issue of condoms, are there instances in which its use may be justified? 

An allusion to a particular circumstance of a male prostitute using a condom to prevent HIV transmission leads many to erroneously conclude that the Pope condones its use in some circumstances – I guess the reference to a ‘male prostitute’ should engender reflection. 

He acknowledges the relative moral value of the prostitute showing concern for protecting others by using condoms. But it is far from being sufficient. 

For the Pope, it is not really the way to promote HIV prevention. One would say: the finality does not justify the means. It should be stressed that the Pope, by referring to the case of a moral prostitute, shows that he is fully aware of these types of circumstances that often bring thinkers and theologians to envision condoning the use of condoms. Where many are expecting a move from the Pope, he is rather the one calling for a move from a first step of moralisation toward a higher level of morality.

Are there implications to be drawn from the Pope’s comments? At the level of theological reflection, there are definitely some implications. Speaking freely about condoms, the Pope makes it less a taboo subject within the Church and in the dialogue with the secular world. He opens the floor to a constructive debate. 

The consideration of the particular – not to say exceptional – circumstance is a stimulation for a deeper theological reflection. At the pastoral level, there should not be that many implications in the sense that by expressing his view in the context of an interview, the Pope did not intend to present a new teaching of the Church on the subject. 

On the other hand, far from reforming the Church’s teaching, the Pope reiterates it. However, he points out what should be the direction we need to mobilise energies and resources to make a difference in the fight against AIDS. The core message is: if you want to stop the spread of HIV infection, fight against banalisation of sexuality and promote humanization of sexuality. And this appeal is more than meaningful in the fight against HIV infection among the youth. 

Paterne Mombe
Paterne Auxence Mombe is the Nairobi-basied director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN). AJAN was set up by the Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar in 2002. It encourages Jesuits present in 30 countries of sub-Saharan Africa and their collaborators to address the challenges of HIV and AIDS. Today about 300 Jesuits are fighting the pandemic with services in HIV prevention, care and treatment, psychosocial and spiritual accompaniment, nutritional support, poverty reduction, women empowerment, fight against stigma, research and publication, trainings and capacity building, etc. At the level of prevention, AJAN is working on scaling up an effective HIV prevention program based on identified successful experiences and best practices, which include value-based education, through all the Jesuit educational institutions in Africa.

Topic tags: aids, condoms, jesuit, africa, sex, prostitution, morality, hiv



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Existing comments

How the use of words can distort as much as bring clarity.
From the dictionary : ' banal ' - tediously unoriginal or commonplace ;
' sexuality ' - capacity for sexual feelings ; ' humanize ' - to make more humane.

I question how helpful a concept such as" banalisation of sexuality " would assist a young person to ' humanise their sexuality "

Noel Will | 30 November 2010  

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