Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Africa this week and, in a continent that sees 2 million people die of AIDS every year, with 25 million dead so far, proclaimed that not only do condoms not protect against AIDS, they could make the crisis worse.
A statement like this, frankly, boggles the mind.
I understand that the Pope wants to encourage sexual relations only in the confines of a committed, loving, heterosexual marriage. While this of course means that Catholic gays and lesbians must either live a celibate life or choose damnation (and the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases), it also means that heterosexuals, even those who are faithful to their partners, cannot be protected from deadly diseases.
It is not just the immoral and irresponsibile who have sex outside of marriage and thus risk exposure to HIV and other diseases. Especially in Africa, where at least 50% of all HIV infections are now found in women and girls, victims are very often drawn from married women, whose partners have sex outside of the relationship.
In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, women are at especially high risk of AIDS not because they have sex outside of their marriage, although many do, but because many African cultures allow multiple sexual partners for men, and, for migrant workers, prostitutes. Because women in many African cultures cannot say no to sex, and because violence, and sexual violence, are very high in these cultures, women are especially at risk.
For a woman, then, even a committed and faithful one, a condom could be her only way of keeping herself safe, whether having sex with her husband, boyfriend, or other man.
For the Pope to ignore the realities of these women (and girls) is horrifying, and makes me feel as if he is more interested in maintaining strict control over believers than in protecting millions of lives per year.