Agence France-Presse, April 4,
No Praise for
Pope from AIDS Campaigners
Author : Richard Ingham
AIDS campaigners sounded a jarring note Monday
over the papacy of John Paul II, describing
his ban on condom use, abhorrence of homosexuality
and conservatism on women's rights as bleak
failures in the fight against HIV.
The pope's tenure straddled the emergence of
the first cases of AIDS to its spread as a
global pandemic that by last year had claimed
more than 20 million lives and left nearly
40 million others infected with HIV.
As the catastrophe unfolded, the pontiff repeatedly
called for support for people sickened with
the human immunodeficiency virus and always
pleaded for the cause of AIDS orphans.
"At a time of mourning, it's important to
note that whatever else can be said, he did
help to ease AIDS stigma," an official
with an international health agency, involved
in the fight against HIV, told AFP.
Set against that, though, the pope took a deeply
conservative line when it came to the causes
of infection and preventing its spread.
In his edicts, he fought indefatigably against
condoms, branded homosexuality immoral and
emphasised a passive role for women as family
anchor and child bearer.
With an eye to Catholic liberals who suggested
condoms could help protect against HIV, the
pope declared in a landmark message in 1988
that use of contraception was "intrinsically
"No personal or social circumstances could
ever, can now, or will ever, render such an
act lawful in itself," he said.
Less than three weeks before he died, the pope
told Tanzanian bishops on March 11 that "fidelity
within marriage and abstinence outside are
the only sure ways to limit the further spread
of AIDS infection."
Radical AIDS campaigners said Monday that, in
their view, by stigmatising homosexuality,
denying condoms and hampering female empowerment,
the pope may even have helped propagate HIV.
"Millions of people in developing countries
are orphans, having lost their parents to AIDS
because of the pope's anti-condom dogma,"
said British gay campaigner Peter Tatchell
of the group OutRage.
"We mourn for the eight million Catholics
who have died of AIDS, and worry for the more
than 10 million Catholics who are infected,"
said Khalil Elouardighi of the French branch
of the lobby group Act Up.
"It should not be forgotten that millions
have died in Africa as a result of this theological
rigidity," said the British centrist daily
The Independent. "Blindess in the face
of AIDS," was the headline in France's
left-of-centre daily Liberation.
A pro-reform Catholic group, We Are Church, founded
in 1996, said John Paul II's pontificate "was
full of contradictions."
"Among the human rights still crying out
for recognition in the church are gender equality...
and the use of condoms to prevent the spread
of HIV-AIDS," it said.
The pope's emphasis on abstinence and fidelity
is shared by evangelical American Christians,
who have successfully lobbied to have those
messages promoted under President George W.
Bush's programme to fight AIDS in Africa.
But many workers on the ground in Africa, the
home of two-thirds of the world's AIDS victims,
say this message is almost useless among sexually
curious youngsters and among men for whom promiscuity
is a way of life.
They also say that AIDS is spread by lack of
female empowerment: in many settings, especially
in sub-Saharan Africa, a woman who cannot refuse
intercourse or oblige her promiscuous husband
to wear a condom places herself -- and their
foetus -- at risk.
<< Agence France-Presse -- 4/4/05 >>
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Paul II's Unswerving Orthodoxy Wasted Chance
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Divider, Not a Uniter: the Legacy of Pope John
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Praise for Pope from AIDS Campaigners
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