The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Saturday, 11 April 2009
Pell rides papal bandwagon of death
By David Marr
That's one hell of an Easter message. In a contest between showing slavish support for the Pope and putting people in the way of disease and death, Cardinal George Pell chose loyalty. From the far distance of the Vatican comes the sound of a few hands clapping.
"They encourage promiscuity," the cardinal told Sky Television. "The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous."
It's hardly news but in the face of this ridicule it has to be said again: Australia waged the world's most effective war on AIDS by ignoring the Catholic Church. We did not heed the demands of John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI. We encouraged people to use condoms, we distributed clean syringes and we saved thousands of lives.
Catholics applauded, though silently. While the hierarchy of the church remains locked into an ancient theology of sex that has terrible consequences in the modern world, the rank and file know better. But they are entirely submissive. They don't rise up. They don't heckle Benedict and Pell from the pews. Their courtesy is the great modern miracle of Catholicism.
But in the Western world at least, they don't support the Vatican's absolute ban on condoms. In 2007 Catholics for Choice engaged the Washington pollsters Belden Russonello & Stewart to find what Catholics in the United States, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and Ghana thought about this teaching.
In Ireland, 80 per cent of Catholics said they wanted it changed. In the US the figure was 63 per cent. In Mexico it was 60 per cent. The Philippines split 47 per cent to 49 per cent. The young church in Ghana stuck by the Vatican, with only 37 per cent of those polled calling for reform.
That is bad news for Africa, the principal recruiting ground for Christianity in the world today and the continent with the worst rates of HIV. It was as the Pope was flying into Cameroon - infection rate 5.5 per cent, compared with 0.1 per cent in Australia - that he reaffirmed the doctrinal hard line against condoms a few weeks ago.
Benedict was denounced by governments in Europe, attacked in medical journals and contradicted by a couple of bishops in Portugal. The armed forces bishop, Januario Torgal Ferreira, was quoted as saying: "to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people".
But the papal death sentence wrapped in rhetoric about "spiritual human renewal" did not deter Africa's faithful. Millions turned up for the pontiff's Masses. Benedict could look out on a sea of exuberant faces endorsing, it would seem, the church's ancient taboo against contraception so that "each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life".
Christ didn't lay down that rule. You won't find it anywhere in the Bible. It crept into church teaching in the second century via Clement of Alexandria who came up with a formula - based as much as anything on Greek philosophy - that the only sanctified sex was sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation.
With that, the church and Western civilisation set off down a very odd track for a couple of millennia. In its purest form, Clement's rule meant no contraception, no sex when conception is unlikely, no sex in positions that inhibit or forbid conception, no sex for the barren, no masturbation, and naturally, no homosexuality.
So absurd and cruel were these rules that churches began to soften some and delete others. Most Protestant denominations in the 20th century dumped all but the prohibitions against extramarital sex and homosexuality. But in the 1930s, the Catholic Church locked itself to Clement by reaffirming the ban on condoms.
By the time the Second Vatican Council met in the 1960s, the pill had been discovered. A commission of theologians and medical experts concluded after five years of study that there was no good reason for the church to ban it. But Pope Paul VI did exactly that in the infamous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.
All hell broke loose. The Vatican was compelled to put down a revolt that spread around the world. Enforcing the rule against contraception pitted the papacy against theologians, bishops and believers. Attendance at Mass in Western countries went into free fall. Rome didn't budge. Demonising contraception remains, as much as anything, an issue of papal authority. It's about power.
Though condoms prevent the transmission of genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea, they were forbidden to the faithful. The first cases of AIDS were reported in the early 1980s, and by 2000 the US National Institutes of Health had concluded that, properly used, condoms reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by 85 per cent.
But the word from the Vatican was: absolutely no change. From time to time, brave bishops would contest the ruling. They were slapped down. There were glimmers of hope a few years ago when a great prince of the church, the former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, began to argue that wearing a condom was less evil than infecting your partner.
Makes sense, but he was silenced and the Vatican reasserted the absolute ban that George Pell yesterday backed so exuberantly on Sky Television.
Already the weasel wordsmiths of the church will be working out ways to "explain" and put Pell's words "in context" and throw in a few "experts" to prove him "right".
It's true that condoms don't prevent all transmissions of HIV/AIDS. Aspirin doesn't cure every headache either. And we know in our hearts - and every reputable study confirms - that the church's call for abstinence is useless.
Sex beats prayer. Even bishops have sex. We know, because they have died of AIDS.
Since Humanae Vitae, disobedience has become a way of life for Catholics in the West. Catholics in Europe and Australia use contraception like everyone else. Safe sex campaigns have strong political backing. But how many good Catholics will die in Africa and the Philippines before they learn that in the 21st century disobeying the Vatican line is a matter of life and death?
London ~~ Friday, 10 April 2009
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols defends Pope's stance on condoms
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, photograph Ben Gurr/The Times
The new Archbishop of Westminster today defended the Pope's stance on condoms and Aids and called for sexuality to be "humanised". But he dodged the issue of whether the Church should advocate condom use as a health measure when one party in a marriage has aids or HIV.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, who will be installed at Westminster Roman Catholic cathedral in May, refused to comment on whether he would advise a faithful married couple to use condoms if one of them had Aids.
Instead, he argued that Pope Benedict XVI had been misrepresented in his recent comments and that his aim had been to defend African women.
The Pope was greeted by a chorus of international condemnation after he told journalists during his recent visit to Africa that the rate of Aids and HIV infection on the continent was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
The Holy See did not dispute the Pope said this, but later altered the "official" record to indicate that what he had intended to say was that condoms "risk" aggravating the problems.
Archbishop Nichols, a conservative who, at 63, has a potential 27 years at Westminster, is likely at some stage to have no option but to state his position on an issue where the Catholic Church's official stance appears increasingly untenable.
Many Catholic and non-Catholic Christians have no issue with the Church's stance on life issues generally, supporting its opposition to euthanasia, abortion and promiscuity. But the Church's refusal even to consider sanctioning condom use as a health measure in countries where Aids is rampant is being condemned at the highest levels of scientific and intellectual debate in the West as ill-informed, unscientific and inhumane.
Archbishop Nichols, asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the Pope's statement that condoms can make Aids worse, said: "I am not sure that's exactly what he said at all. What he actually talked about was the need to humanise sexuality. And I think to some extent he was speaking up in protection of African women. And I think we face the same challenge."
Urging Catholics to protest against plans to liberalise television advertising for condoms and abortion advice services, he said: "The adverts at present on television for contraception actually are demeaning of young people. They depict two people having sex on a street corner and some more just in a drunken orgy, and that is not a fair representation of young people today. We really need to do an awful lot to raise expectations of each other and to humanise sexuality, to use the Holy Father's phrase."
Asked whether he would suggest condom use to a married faithful catholic couple who came to him for advice where one of them had Aids, he said: "Well obviously that's a very sensitive point and obviously there are different views on that."
Asked what his own view was, he insisted: "No, no, that's not what this public debate is about."
He continued by arguing that he wanted to pursue the point about humanising sexuality.
"We really do have to raise people's expectatins about themselves. Today is Good Friday. What do we celebrate today? We celebrate this enormous gift of God's love to us, which teaches us how much dignity we have, and we have to encourage as a society people to live off their best instincts, their best generosity and not constantly be portraying our society as degraded and in need of elastoplast all the time."
The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Saturday, 11 April 2009
Pell backs Pope in saying condoms worsen AIDS spread
By Josephine Tovey
THE Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, made use of one of the holiest days in the Christian calender yesterday to support the Pope's controversial claim that condoms worsen the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney said on morning television yesterday that condoms "encourage promiscuity" and were not the solution to the AIDS epidemic.
"The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous," he said on Sky News.
The cardinal said the different rates of AIDS in Catholic and non-Catholic countries in Asia showed why spirituality, not condoms, was needed.
"If you look at the Philippines you'll see the incidence of AIDS is much lower than it is in Thailand, which is awash with condoms. There are condoms everywhere and the rate of infection is enormous."
Pope Benedict XVI ignited furious reaction from AIDS organisations and received swift censure from European politicians when he made similar comments during a visit to Africa in March.
The president of the AIDS Council of NSW, Marc Orr, said the cardinal's comments contradicted all evidence that condoms reduced the transmission of HIV.
"For a person of Cardinal Pell's stature to come out and say condoms don't work, that they're not the answer, that has to be seen as irresponsible when we know the facts. No one ever said [condoms] are the whole solution but they are a part of stopping transmission."
Neither the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, nor the NSW Health Minister, John Della Bosca, would comment to the Herald on Cardinal Pell's remarks yesterday.
Both ministers instead underscored their commitment to current AIDS prevention strategies.
"Australia's relatively low rates of HIV infection are at least in part due to prevention programs, which include safe sex messages, condoms and the needle and syringe program," a spokesman for Mr Della Bosca said.
Following the Pope's remarks on March 18 that condoms could increase the AIDS epidemic in Africa, a French foreign ministry spokesman, Eric Chevallier, accused the pontiff of jeopardising health messages.
"We consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life."
During the interview with Sky News, Cardinal Pell also addressed the Pope's assertion that the fight against homosexuality was as important as the fight to save the rainforests. "It's like comparing apples with pears. I'm not sure it's an entirely enlightening comparison. Both of them are challenges."