Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

What the Pope actually said about condoms

The head of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) Jesuit Father Michael Czerny reflects on the Pope’s comments on condoms in an online article, “A human and spiritual wake-up call.” The author deals with what the Pope actually said, not what the what media heard. Father Czerny does a good job with the matter.

2 reviews on the Pope in Africa

John Allen reflects on the Pope’s time in Africa (National Catholic Reporter, 2009)

I don’t think I’ve ever covered a papal trip where the gap between internal and external perceptions has been as vast as over these three days. It’s almost as if the pope has made two separate visits to Cameroon: the one reported internationally and the one Africans actually experienced.

In the U.S. and many other parts of the world, coverage has been “all condoms, all the time,” triggered by comments from Benedict aboard the papal plane to the effect that condoms aren’t the right way to fight AIDS. In Africa, meanwhile, the trip has been a hit, beginning with Benedict’s dramatic insistence that Christians must never be silent in the face of “corruption and abuses of power,” and extending through a remarkable meeting with African Muslims in which the pope said more clearly and succinctly what he wanted to say three years ago in his infamous Regensburg address, and without the gratuitous quotation from a Byzantine emperor.

Vast and pumped-up crowds flocked to see the pope, and Benedict seemed swept up in the enthusiasm. Twice he referred to Africa as the “continent of hope,” and at one point, this consummate theologian even mused aloud about a new burst of intellectual energy in Africa that might generate a 21st century version of the famed school of Alexandria, which gave the early church such luminaries as Clement and Origen.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem to Westerners, it was difficult to find anyone in Cameroon –at least anyone who wasn’t a foreign journalist or missionary, or an employee of an overseas NGO– for whom the condoms issue loomed especially large. The locals had different opinions on whether condoms are the right way to tackle AIDS, of course, but it didn’t seem to dominate their impressions of the event.

Bottom line: Seen from abroad, the trip has been about condoms; on the ground, it’s felt like a celebration of African Catholicism. Here’s a surreal experience that underscores the disjunction.

On Tuesday, I prepared a piece on the pope’s indirect, but unmistakable, rebuke of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya – a former Catholic seminarian who has tried repeatedly to wrap himself in the papal flag while Benedict is in town. Billboards around Yaoundè assert a “perfect communion” between the two, and colorful African-style shirts and dresses distributed for the trip are festooned with pictures of Biya and Benedict. Biya is also, however, a classic African strongman, who has ruled Cameroon since 1982 through a blend of occasional repression and constant corruption.

Benedict didn’t want to embarrass his host, but he also didn’t want the photo-op to imply a papal seal of approval. Thus, without mentioning Biya directly, Benedict said pointedly that Christians must speak out against “corruption and abuses of power.” That was enough to set off shockwaves in Cameroon, and it seemed to invigorate local church leaders. The next morning, Cardinal Christian Tumi, Cameroon’s lone cardinal, publicly asked Biya to withdraw as a candidate in elections set for 2011, something that previously almost no one would have dared to do.

I was outlining all this in my article when I had to break off to do an interview with CNN International about day one of the trip … which was entirely devoted to the condoms controversy. To be honest, I had to wonder if we were even talking about the same event.

That said, let me be clear: This perception gap is not exclusively, or even primarily, the media’s fault. The reporter from French TV who asked Benedict the condom question aboard the papal plane was well within bounds; AIDS is serious business, and it’s fair game to ask the pope about it on his first visit to the continent that’s been hardest hit by the disease. Once the question was popped, the ball was in Benedict’s court. Much of the blame for what happened next, therefore, has to lie at his feet.

By that, I’m not taking any position on the substance of the pope’s answer, though in fairness he did no more than repeat church teaching on contraception, as well as the nearly unanimous view of every African bishop I’ve ever interviewed: that condoms give their people a false sense of invulnerability, thereby encouraging risky sexual behavior. That may be debatable, but one can hardly fault the pope for taking his cues from the bishops on the ground. (Ironically, popes usually get in trouble precisely for not listening to local bishops.)

Setting aside what he said, there’s still the matter of whether this was the right time and place to say it – especially since it would inevitably overshadow the message Benedict was flying to Africa to deliver. (It’s worth recalling that the pope has been down this road before. En route to Brazil in 2007, he took a question about excommunicating politicians who support abortion rights, thereby blotting day one of his first trip to Latin America out of the sky.)

Anybody who’s ever spent time in front of cameras knows how to dance around a question that’s not going to lead anywhere good. Benedict could have said something like: “Of course the church is deeply concerned about AIDS, which is why a quarter of all AIDS patients in the world are cared for by Catholic hospitals and other facilities. As far as condoms are concerned, our teaching is well-known, but today isn’t the right time for discussing it. Instead, I want to focus on my message of hope to the African people,” etc., etc. The story that probably would have resulted – “Benedict shrugs off condoms query” – would hardly have generated a global uproar.

Someone hungry for a silver lining might be tempted to say that the sideshow on condoms made the world pay attention to the Africa trip – except, of course, it didn’t. Instead, Africa became a backdrop to another round in the Western culture wars.

Yet however one assigns the blame, the fact remains that international discussion of Benedict in Cameroon has left a badly distorted impression of the trip’s aims and content. If the first rule for assessing an event is to understand what actually happened, then drawing conclusions about Benedict’s African journey is going to require more than simply following the bouncing ball on the great condom debate.

AFRICA/AIDS “wars” distorted by libertarians

John Waters

The Irish Times, 2009

DRIVING AROUND Uganda in recent years, you could hardly help noticing the government-sponsored advertising hoardings along the highway. One had a picture of a smiling man in his 60s with the slogan, “Say No to Sugar Daddies”. Another showed a slightly younger man, and the slogan, “Would you want this man sleeping with your daughter? So why are you sleeping with his?” The billboards were part of Uganda’s long, successful battle against Aids, these posters being directed at creating a sexual firebreak between generations.

In the 1980s, Uganda was at the epicentre of the African Aids catastrophe, but managed to reverse the spread of the disease through an emphasis on cultural adaptation – abstinence, fidelity and some education about condom use. In Europe and America, however, whenever the subject of Aids and Africa is mentioned, there is an assumption that condoms are incontrovertibly the sole option.

No sooner had Pope Benedict XVI stepped off the aircraft in Cameroon this week than the western media was again pumping out its partisan propaganda. The pope was reported saying Aids could not be overcome through the distribution of condoms, “which even aggravates the problems”. As usual, voices asserted that the battle against Aids in Africa was all about condoms, with the Catholic position treated as dangerous obscurantism. Benedict, we were told, was “refusing to yield”.

Spokesmen and women for European governments claimed the use of condoms was the vital element in the fight against Aids. We were told that “even” some priests and nuns working against Aids believe the pope is wrong.

But for every such voice, there are hundreds of priests, nuns and other anti-Aids activists in Africa saying the western obsession with condoms is a distraction. What works is action to change sexual behaviour, and the Catholic Church has long been to the fore in pushing such initiatives.

At the core of the kick-the- pope argument is a gross absurdity. Aids was spread in Africa mainly by truck drivers using prostitutes along the arterial highways that string together an otherwise disorderly continent.

The pope, as well as opposing condoms, is also hostile to prostitution and extra-marital sex, and yet it is implied that those who have been spreading HIV/Aids through promiscuous behaviour would wear condoms if the pope told them to do so. But Pope Benedict is neither a lawmaker nor a policeman. He has the power simply to speak the truth as he has received it and then allow everyone the freedom to decide for themselves.

Whether the libertarian West likes it or not, much of the evidence in Africa indicates that emphasis on monogamy and sexual continence is what delivers on Aids. Uganda many years ago identified the problem as a cultural one relating to sexual promiscuity, with condoms a minor and ambiguous sidebar. The Government promoted the standard “ABC” approach (abstain, be faithful, use condoms), but condoms did not play a significant part in the early battle against the disease, largely because President Yoweri Museveni believed they offered false hope that the disease could be curbed without a change in sexual behaviour. Later, under assault from the West, the Ugandan health ministry began giving out about 80 million free condoms a year. But after some batches were found to be defective, the government now distributes far fewer condoms.

In the 25 years since Aids was first reported in Uganda, broad-based partnerships and effective public education campaigns have contributed to a spectacular decline in the number of people contracting HIV and Aids.

State-sponsored programmes reduced Aids prevalence from over 30 per cent to about 6 per cent. Fidelity to a single partner was the dominant message of early HIV prevention campaigns. Uganda’s first lady Janet Museveni has been a vocal proponent of abstinence approaches, and has been widely criticised by the same people who regularly attack the pope.

In recent years, there has been a slight disimprovement in Uganda’s Aids situation. External critics, predictably, have blamed abstinence policies, but the facts are not so clear-cut. Although western propaganda seeks to fudge this, there is some evidence that condom availability may have diluted the earlier message, causing a shift back to old habits.

Ideally, one might think, abstinence programmes and safe sex strategies should complement each other. But in practice the approaches are mutually incompatible. Once you advocate condom use, you are accepting that abstinence is no longer a persuasive option. And if you argue, as the Catholic Church does, that promiscuity promotes HIV/Aids, it would be ludicrous to recommend measures that, implicitly, suggest that this position can be relativised.

This is a complex issue, which certainly cannot be reduced to a simple questions of condoms. What the world needs is a full and truthful discussion, not bigoted, libertarian propaganda masquerading as reportage.

Pope writes to conference on Women

In a letter of greeting to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino the Pope on the occasion of the “Life, Family, Development: The Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights,” conference which took place week in the Vatican he wrote of that Christianity is life giving, and not full of despair in front of reality and that following John Paul insight, there is a new feminism informed by the Gospel that has the power to change people.

I am pleased to extend cordial greetings to you and to all those taking part in the International Conference on the theme “Life, Family and Development: the Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights.” This event, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with the cooperation of the World Women’s Alliance for Life and Family, the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations and other associations, is an exemplary response to my predecessor Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new feminism” with the power to transform culture, imbuing it with a decisive respect for life (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 98-99).

Every day we learn of further ways in which life is compromised, particularly in its most vulnerable stages. While justice demands that these be decried as a violation of human rights, they must also evoke a positive and proactive response. The recognition and appreciation of God’s plan for women in the transmission of life and the nurturing of children is a constructive step in this direction. Beyond this, and given the distinctive influence of women in society, they must be encouraged to embrace the opportunity to uphold the dignity of life through their involvement in education and their participation in political and civic life. Indeed, because they have been gifted by the Creator with a unique “capacity for the other,” women have a crucial part to play in the promotion of human rights, for without their voice the social fabric of society would be weakened (cf. Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 13). As you reflect on the role of women in the promotion of human rights, I invite you to keep in mind a task to which I have drawn attention on several occasions: namely, to correct any misconception that Christianity is simply a collection of commandments and prohibitions. The Gospel is a message of joy which encourages men and women to delight in spousal love; far from stifling it, Christian faith and ethics make it healthy, strong and truly free. This is the exact meaning of the Ten Commandments: they are not a series of “noes” but a great “yes” to love and to life (cf. Address to the Participants at the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 5 June 2006).

It is my sincere hope that your discussions over these next two days will translate into concrete initiatives that safeguard the indispensable role of the family in the integral development of the human person and of society as a whole. The genius of women to mobilize and organize endows them with the skills and motivation to develop ever-expanding networks for sharing experiences and generating new ideas. The accomplishments of WWALF and the UMOFC/WUCWO are an outstanding example of this, and I encourage their members to persevere in their generous service to society. May the sphere of your influence continue to grow at regional, national and international levels for the advancement of human rights based on the strong foundation of marriage and family.

I once more extend best wishes for the success of this conference and my prayers for the continuing mission of the participating organizations. Invoking the intercession of Mary, “the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 570), I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.



PS: a video clip on the Pope’s remarks the other on women

Church in Africa will become “for all, through the witness borne by its sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation

Some points of interest from the Pope’s Laetare Sunday homily:


Pope San Antonio Church.jpgWhen God’s word — a word meant to build up individuals, communities and the whole human family — is neglected, and when God’s law is “ridiculed, despised, laughed at” (ibid., v. 16), the result can only be destruction and injustice: the abasement of our common humanity and the betrayal of our vocation to be sons and daughters of a merciful Father, brothers and sisters of his beloved Son.


God dwells, we know, in the hearts of all who put their faith in Christ, who are reborn in Baptism and are made temples of the Holy Spirit. Even now, in the unity of the Body of Christ which is the Church, God is calling us to acknowledge the power of his presence within us, to re-appropriate the gift of his love and forgiveness, and to become messengers of that merciful love within our families and communities, at school and in the workplace, in every sector of social and political life.


I ask you today, in union with all our brothers and sisters throughout Africa, to pray for this intention: that every Christian on this great continent will experience the healing touch of God’s merciful love, and that the Church in Africa will become “for all, through the witness borne by its sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation” (Ecclesia in Africa, 79).


You have received power from the Holy Spirit to be the builders of a better tomorrow for your beloved country. In Baptism you were given the Spirit in order to be heralds of God’s Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace (cf. Roman Missal, Preface of Christ the King). On the day of your Baptism you received the light of Christ. Be faithful to that gift! Be confident that the Gospel can affirm, purify and ennoble the profound human values present in your native culture and traditions: your strong families, your deep religious sense, your joyful celebration of the gift of life, your appreciation of the wisdom of the elderly and the aspirations of the young. Be grateful, then, for the light of Christ! Be grateful for those who brought it, the generations of missionaries who contributed — and continue to contribute — so much to this country’s human and spiritual development. Be grateful for the witness of so many Christian parents, teachers, catechists, priests and religious, who made personal sacrifices in order to pass this precious treasure down to you! And take up the challenge which this great legacy sets before you. Realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is meant to be a sign before the world of that unity to which the whole human family is called, through faith in Christ the Redeemer.


How much darkness there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men’s hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society — a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values. And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?


Laetare Sunday.jpgEven if it means being a “sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34) in the face of hardened attitudes and a mentality that sees others as a means to be used, rather than as brothers and sisters to be loved, cherished and helped along the path of freedom, life and hope.


Dear young friends: you are the hope of your country’s future, the promise of a better tomorrow! Begin today to grow in your friendship with Jesus, who is “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6): a friendship nurtured and deepened by humble and persevering prayer. Seek his will for you by listening to his word daily, and by allowing his law to shape your lives and your relationships. In this way you will become wise and generous prophets of God’s saving love. Become evangelizers of your own peers, leading them by your own example to an appreciation of the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and the hope of a future shaped by the values of God’s Kingdom. The Church needs your witness! Do not be afraid to respond generously to God’s call, whether it be to serve him as a priest or a religious, as a Christian parent, or in the many forms of service to others which the Church sets before you.


Pope Benedict XVI

Laetare Sunday Mass

22 March 2009

Pope Benedict defends women

Here are three paragraphs that I find particularly important in what the Pope said about the plight of women and our responsibilities according to the Divine Plan. The Pope reflects to us not only the problems women face in other nations but it should be taken to heart even in first world nations like the USA. He speaks the truth; he calls us to follow Christ and to do it according to the ways the Lord has shown. Men bear the responsibility for the lack of dignity women face and that is clearly not living imago Dei.


I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been — and continue to be — subjected, paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame. This forms no part of God’s plan. In the Scripture reading, we heard that the entire people cried out together: “all that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” Sacred Scripture tells us that the divine Creator, looking upon all he had made, saw that something was missing: everything would have been fine if man had not been alone! How could one man by himself constitute the image and likeness of God who is one and three, God who is communion? “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). God went to work again, fashioning for the man the helper he still lacked, and endowing this helper in a privileged way by incorporating the order of love, which had seemed under-represented in creation.

As you know, my dear friends, this order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the Trinitarian life, the Holy Spirit being the personal hypostasis of love. As my predecessor Pope John Paul II once wrote, “in God’s eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). In fact, gazing upon the captivating charm that radiates from woman due to the inner grace God has given her, the heart of man is enlightened and he sees himself reflected in her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Woman is another “I” who shares in the same human nature. We must therefore recognize, affirm and defend the equal dignity of man and woman: they are both persons, utterly unique among all the living beings found in the world.

Pope with women.jpgMan and woman are both called to live in profound communion through a reciprocal recognition of one another and the mutual gift of themselves
, working together for the common good through the complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity. Who today can fail to recognize the need to make more room for the “reasons of the heart”? In a world like ours, dominated by technology, we feel the need for this feminine complementarity, so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity. Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise. It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values.


Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholic Movements for the Promotion of Women

22 March 2009

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory