Africa: Condoms Finally Authorized Conditionally by The Pope

The news spread around the world in a matter of minutes.  In a book released on November 23, Pope Benedict XVI declared that “in certain cases, when the intention is to reduce the risk of contamination, [the condom] can even be a first step toward opening the way to a more humane sexuality, lived differently.”  He gave this response to the question(fr)* , “Is the Catholic Church fundamentally against the use of condoms?”

According to several observers, this response marks sea change in the Pope's vision on contraception: until now, for the Church, abstinence was the only way to limit births or to prevent the spread of illness through sexual activity.  The Church opposed any other form of contraception and condemned the use of condoms, even to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

Until now, the many activists and religious Catholics involved in the fight against AIDS had to choose between disobeying the Church or limiting their activity to helping people already infected.  Thus they could not work to prevent AIDS, only hope to prolong life after the infection struck.

Earlier, during a trip to Cameroon and Angola in March 2009, the Pope had declared that the use of condoms “aggravated” the problem of AIDS.  His words, spoken in the airplane, provoked an outcry worldwide and caused embarrassment to Catholic organizations engaged in the fight against AIDS.

Photo by parousie on

Reactions were heated.  tê presented a few of them:

Des groupes polémiques tels que «Je porte plainte contre le pape, me soutenez vous?» ou encore «Vivement que le pape soit une femme vraie ou fausse» sont apparus.

Désormais, tous les dimanches est organisé un lâcher de préservatifs devant le parvis de l'Église Saint-Eustache à Paris, pour une opération nommée «une capote pour le pape». L'action consiste à gonfler un maximum de préservatifs et à les lâcher dans le ciel. D'autres ont eu l’idée de remplir les urnes des églises avec des prophylactiques. Le projet le plus fou est celui qui consiste à envoyer un maximum de capotes par courrier, de façon à obstruer le petit bureau de poste du Vatican. »

Polemical groups, such as, “I'm going to sue the Pope, will you support me?” or “I can't wait for a woman Pope, real or fake” were created.

From now on, in an operation called “a condom for the Pope,” we will hold a condom release every Sunday on the steps of Saint-Eustache Church in Paris, Activists will inflate condoms and release them into the air. Other activists thought of filling urns in churches with prophylactics. The craziest plan was to mail the Pope enough condoms to paralyze the Vatican post office.

In Cameroon, Jean Marcel Bougereau of the Mouvement camerounais pour le plaidoyer à l'accès aux traitements (Cameroonian Movement for Access to Treatment) commented:

Ce n’est plus Benoit XVI, c’est Gaston Lagaffe. Un Gaston Lagaffe réactionnaire. On se souvient de celle gaffe, énorme, proférée à la veille de son voyage en Turquie (Il avait cité un empereur byzantin disant que les enseignements de Mahomet étaient “mauvais et inhumains”), il y eut plus récemment la réintégration de l’évêque intégriste – et négationniste – Williamson, l’homme qui croyait à l’immaculée conception mais demandait des preuves pour les chambres à gaz ! Il y eut plus récemment encore l’inhumaine ‘excommunication d’une petite fille brésilienne de 9 ans qui avait été violée par son beau-père, ainsi que des médecins qui lui ont sauvé la vie en la faisant avorter, comme si pour l’Eglise le corps de la femme, et là d’une enfant, n’était que le réceptacle passif des spermatozoïdes masculins.

He's no longer Benedict XVI, he's Gaston Lagaffe.  A reactionary Gaston Lagaffe.  Think of his enormous blunder, pronounced on the eve of his trip to Turkey (he had cited a Byzantine emperor who had said that the teachings of Mohammad were “bad and inhumane”).  And more recently, the reintegration of Williamson, the fundamentalist and negationist bishop who believed in the immaculate conception but demanded proof for the gas chambers!  And even more recently and more inhumane, the excommunication of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who had been raped by her step-father.  The doctors who saved her life by performing an abortion were also excommunicated, as though for the Church, a woman's body, or in this case, the child's body, were only a passive receptacle for male sperm.

Vidberg also expressed his point of view:

According to the Pope, condoms aggravate the problem of AIDS.

Pope: “So, despite protecting yourself, you contracted AIDS?”

Patient: “Yes, I always wore a condom.  The only time I took it off was to make love, obviously.  Otherwise it would be unpleasant.”

Pope:  Yes, obviously.  I understand.

An article published by on November 21 said:

Condamnée par beaucoup, jugée définitivement obsolète par nombre de fidèles la position du Vatican n’avait pour elle que sa profonde cohérence interne. En prônant la chasteté absolue avant le mariage et l’absolue fidélité réciproque ensuite, en décrétant que la vie humaine commençait avec la fécondation d’un ovocyte par un spermatozoïde, en condamnant toute forme de contraception mécanique ou hormonale de même que l’ensemble des techniques d’assistance médicale à la procréation, le Vatican avait délibérément choisi de ne pas accompagner l’évolution des sciences, de la médecine et des mœurs.

Condemned by many and judged obsolete by numerous faithful Catholics, the Vatican's position had only  internal logic.  By promoting absolute chastity before marriage and absolute fidelity afterward, by decreeing that human life begins at the moment of fertilization, and by condemning any form of artificial or hormonal contraception, as well as any type of fertility treatment, the Vatican had deliberately chosen to abandon the evolution of science, medicine, and mores.

Specialists in the area of STDs who are faithful to Catholic doctrine did not have time to celebrate the Pope's new pronouncement.  Another AFP dispatch published on haitien headlines stated that:

Dimanche après-midi, le Saint-Siège a toutefois tenu, de manière tout à fait inhabituelle, à publier un communiqué pour souligner “le caractère exceptionnel” de l'éventuelle utilisation du préservatif, soulignant, face aux attentes de responsables et militants de la lutte contre le sida, que “le raisonnement du pape ne peut pas être considéré comme un tournant révolutionnaire”.

Sunday afternoon, the Holy See, in an unusual move, published a communiqué to emphasize how “rare” the possible use of condoms must be, and to clarify, given the expectations of AIDS activists, that “the Pope's thinking cannot be considered a revolutionary turning point.”

Will we see other caveats, clarifications, or obfuscations seeking to halt this evolution?

For the time being, specialists wanting to reconcile their religious faith with the exigencies of their profession will now have recourse to a key tool, for there is no real substitute for the condom in the fight against AIDS.

* Links are in French unless stated otherwise.

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