Commentary  Editorial: The myth of Papal infallibility

When Pope Benedict XVI said that condom distribution wouldn’t solve the AIDS crisis – but would actually exacerbate the epidemic – he put millions of lives in danger. The Pope’s statements demonstrate that he’s comfortable allowing staunch, unyielding dogmatism to obscure his understanding of medical realities.

A compilation of the best, most recent studies on the subject released by the Cochrane Collaboration found that condom use reduces the transmission of HIV/AIDS by 80 per cent. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, latex condoms are extremely effective in preventing heterosexual transmission of HIV when used correctly. Though the Catholic Church has been against the use of condoms throughout its history, this blatantly untrue statement sends the Church over the limit.

The Pope dismissed the power of condom use last Tuesday to a group of Western journalists aboard a plane toward Yaounde, Cameroon, where he started his seven-day tour in the dominantly Catholic countries of Cameroon and Angola. While Catholic congregations in the so-called developed world have steadily declined, the Pope remains extremely influential. His influence is often greatest in countries like Cameroon, where the Roman Catholic Church is growing faster than in any other region, and where HIV/AIDS is also extremely problematic.

A powerful and popular figure in Catholic Africa, the Pope attracted hundreds of thousands of believers when he made public appearances this past week. Practitioners were so eager to hear him speak that the force of the crowd crushed two women to death in a stadium in Luanda, Angola. Considering the moral sway he holds over African Catholics, the Pope’s words on condom use seem flippant and irresponsible. Though campaigns for consistent condom use have been met with numerous challenges, and differing degrees of success in various communities across Sub Saharan Africa, the Pope’s statement threatens to reverse progress made on condom use in Cameroon. According to UNAIDS’ “2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic,” based on demographic health surveys conducted between 1990 and 2007, there has been a statistically significant increase in self-reported condom use during last sex among males and females 15-24 years of age in Cameroon who report more than one partner in the last twelve months.

Considering that he is the leader of an organisation that claims to love and care for all members of its church, we are appalled that Pope Benedict XVI would make statements that are likely to jeopardize the safety of so many people. Religious figures should balance faith with pragmatism, and take more holistic views of their congregations’ well-being.