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Loose Cannon: Message on condoms a holiday blessing

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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  • For Benedict to imply that using
condoms is a lesser sin than transmitting HIV opens the door to
further discussion in the Cat

    For Benedict to imply that using condoms is a lesser sin than transmitting HIV opens the door to further discussion in the Cat

Written by Greg Beneteau

It might be difficult for the casual observer to understand the hubbub raised by Pope Benedict XVI and his now-infamous remark about condoms.

The comments in question were made by Benedict in a new book of interviews, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times." When asked a general question of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the Pontiff appeared to depart from longstanding church teachings about using condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, saying male prostitutes who used condoms were taking a step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”

On Tuesday, Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi expanded Pope Bendict's remarks to include female prostitutes, as well.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine,” Lombardi told reporters. “He told me no. The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship," he added. 

Commentators have called the Pope's change of heart on condom use “groundbreaking” and “a welcome change”, which might seem a bit comical to some readers. For centuries, the Catholic Church has condemned every form of birth control in existence (except, of course, for abstinence). In Africa, where heterosexual transmission of HIV is rampant, this has resulted in millions of unnecessary infections, either due to the lack of availability of condoms or because people there have been convinced it's a grave sin to use them.

Considering the damage the Catholic Church has caused, why should we congratulate the Pope for approving some hypothetical scenario involving condoms for sex workers?  

The truth is, for the millions of Catholic faithful, particularly in the developing world, the Pope is considered the guiding light on matters of morality. No scientific study or public health policy can replace his judgment on issues such as contraception, whether we like it or not.

Prior to the Pope's comments, church doctrine on condom use was quite clear: never use them. Even in the case of a monogamous couple where one partner was HIV-positive, the use of protection was frowned upon. As recently as last year, Benedict said that said condoms only worsened the AIDS problem.

Millions of people around the world have abided by the church's infallible teachings, often with deadly results.

For Benedict to imply that using condoms is a lesser sin than transmitting a deadly illness opens the door to further discussion in the Catholic world. It's a conversation that needs to happen.

It won't happen overnight. Some Catholic bishops in Africa and the United States have openly questioned whether the Pope meant to say that condom use was okay. For those skeptics, only an official papal decree will change their stance on the issue.

Even if that decree materialized (which is quite doubtful) it might be many more years before the abstinence-first approach employed by Catholic aid groups to combat the spread of HIV in Africa is replaced by something more pragmatic.

The important thing is that the door has been opened. Rather than backtrack on his remarks, the Pope appears to have stood his ground in endorsing compassion and respect for one's sexual partners, even if that means using protection. People have taken note of his remarks, which will surely be a topic of discussion on World AIDS Day, December 1.

Of course, there's another important holiday right around the corner. It seems Pope Benedict has given the world an early Christmas blessing – one that may save lives in the long run.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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