Collapse of a Kingdom: The obsolete Pope

A guest commentary by Janet Brazill posted with permission

Reaction of the world community proves that the antiquated views of medieval potentates have no relevance for modern society. Pope Benedict XVI stated that the use of condoms would risk “aggravating” the problem of AIDS. He added that addressing the disease will require a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”

These remarks, uttered while flying to Cameroon as part of a seven-day tour of Africa, alarmed many around the world. Michel Kazatchkine — head of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — called for the pope to retract his “unacceptable” statement, which he called “a denial of the epidemic.” According to Kazatchkine, for the pope “to make these remarks on a continent that unfortunately is a continent where 70% of people who have AIDS die, it’s absolutely unbelievable.”

According to London’s Guardian, several foreign governments also criticized the Vatican, which is a “rare” occurrence that “reflects the strength of feeling against the pope’s comments.” A spokesperson for the French foreign ministry said, “France voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of Benedict XVI’s comments.” He added, “While it is not up to us to pass judgment on church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life.” The health minister of Belgium said the pope’s remarks reflect “a dangerous doctrinaire vision,” adding that Benedict’s statements on condoms “could demolish years of prevention and education and endanger many human lives.” In addition, the German Health Minister and Minister of Development issued a joint statement criticizing the pope’s remarks. “Condoms save lives,” they said, adding, “Modern assistance to the developing world today must make access to family planning available to the poorest of the poor, especially the use of condoms. Anything else would be irresponsible.” (Butt/Hooper, Guardian, 3/19).

With all the pomp and circumstance of royalty, this Vatican ruler pontificates dogma based on long-standing tradition rather than modern scientific fact. Despite the tragic enormity of the problem, he reiterates his Church’s position that the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa should be contained through fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms. In his arcane thinking, he sees spiritual purity as the primary weapon against this devastating disease.

Theologian Daniel C. Maguire looks at it differently. In his book, “Vaticanology,” he writes: “The current Roman Catholic theology is one that favors death rather than life. [The Vatican’s] ‘better-dead-than-condomed’ position has not been blessed by any of the world’s religions or by common sense. It is flat-earth embarrassing.”

Is the Pope’s kingdom, then, beginning to crumble? Besides rebuke from world leaders and theologians, the nobles in his Court—the Church hierarchy itself—are urging a softening of the Church’s opposition to condoms in the battles against AIDS. Even African Bishops have suggested it is time to revise policy. (See “The Catholic Church and the Aids Epidemic.” http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/conscience/archives/cAutumn2001_thelesserevil.asp) The Pope needs to realize that without proper intervention, the course of this disease will decimate the number of serfs in his kingdom.

But can a Pontiff, dedicated to celibacy, ever truly understand the real world? As John White, a priest who left the church after disclosing his HIV status, said of the church’s response to AIDS: “The core of all the problems around HIV/AIDS is being unable to deal adequately with sexuality. If AIDS were merely an infectious disease, then there would be little difficulty for the church in dealing with it. But as it entails dealing with alternative lifestyles—particularly homosexuality—sex outside of marriage, drug use, etc., it becomes something the church cannot possibly deal with until they have first dealt with these core issues.”

The influence of this outdated monarch has been devastating. His Vatican has wielded worldwide influence through the United Nations, where, as the Holy See, it enjoys enormous advantage over any other religion by operating as a Non-member State Permanent Observer. This designation gives it some of the privileges of a state, such as being able to speak and vote at UN conferences. Because these operate on consensus, the ability to disagree with the majority consensus has significant power. The Vatican delegations to all of the major humanitarian meetings of the 1990s—the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), and the five-year follow up meeting to the ICPD—unequivocally condemned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The delegation to the FWCW stated: “The Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.” (See the Catholics for Choice campaign to change the Holy See’s status at the UN: http://www.seechange.org/)..

Such stubborn adherence to traditional doctrine against birth control has also increased the world’s overpopulation problem, complicating efforts to combat global warming.

Hopefully, the world has begun to see that the Pope’s outdated “kingdom” of robes, incense and ritual and his archaic doctrine is out of touch with modern life, and will stop according it a voice in matters of policy.

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