The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Obligatory "Pope Condom Comment" Post

So, as you may have heard, the Vatican is lashing out against those who are mocking the Pope because of his rather absurd claims about condoms being one of the causes of the spread of HIV.

Now, the Vatican is reacting to two things, as far as I can tell: 1) the fact that people have the nerve to critice the Pope, and 2) that the criticism of the Pope over the condom comments is overshadowing some of the other things that he said and did during his African visit.

#2 is perfectly valid. The Pope did say and do many other things while in Africa, and they have been eclipsed by controversy over his condom comments. This is problematic from any point of view, and the Vatican has every right to be annoyed with that.


The notion that the Pope should be spared criticism is beyond absurd. Like it or not, think it’s right or not, the Pope is a significant political figure, and as such he is going to be subject to the same types of scrutiny and criticism as any other major political figure. The fact that he would take a position that is at such odds with reality as claiming that the use of condoms may increase HIV transmission richly deserves criticism and condemnation – it’s a view that is out of touch with reality and in a place such as Africa, DANGEROUSLY STUPID for a major political figure to espouse, especially one that a large number of people assume has divine authority.

I have to say that my favorite quote comes from Bishop Bagnasco:

"He represents for everyone a moral authority, which this journey has made people appreciate even more," Bagnasco said.

Ummm, he’s encouraging an abandonment of one of the primary effective tools in the fight against a deadly disease that has engulfed the African continent not because the tool doesn’t work (it does) but because his a-priori assumptions won’t allow him to actually examine the evidence. That alone means that he is not a moral authority. By choosing to ignore evidence in favor of dogma, he has chosen a path that is only going to lead to the death of others. How the Hell is that a moral stance?


By the way, he represents "for everyone a moral authority"? Umm, last I checked, non-Catholics were part of "everyone", and many (maybe most) of us don't consider him a moral authority. If the guy (or his spokesmen) are going to try to assert his moral authority over everyone and not just his followers, then they had damn well better be prepared for more criticism and mockery.


Kay said...

A few quibbles.

First the Pope IS a moral authority… because he is seen that way by people. In other words, people look to him for moral guidance, so whether or not what his guidance is or is not as we would define it morel. The fact is that people do indeed trust him, believe in him, and consider his words heaven sent. Again, this might be flayed and dangerous or stupid or all three…. But that doesn’t actually matter. To many people, he is a moral authority.

Now I happen to agree with you that as a powerful politicalfigure he shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves and if she says something stupid we should call him out on it. But did he actually say something stupid? Lets look again,…

He said three things:
1. You can't resolve it (The spread of AIDS) with the distribution of condoms
2. On the contrary, it (distribution of condoms) increases the problem (the spread of AIDS)
3. A responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease

I actually agree with both point 1 and 3.
And I think that some would argue that point 2 does little to promote point 3.

Just saying…

Anthroslug said...

I'll start witht he second set of things first.

If there was reason to believe that without condoms, people would significantly reduce sexual activity, then I would agree with your assessment of the Pope's comments. However, this does not appear to be the case, and by discouraging condom use, there is no reason to think that sexual activity will be curtailed. So, there is little reason to think that point 2 is valid. If point 2 is not valid, then the argument falls apart, and the comments are useless at best and more likely harmful.

As for the first part - I suspect that if you were to ask the average Catholic "is it immoral to use a position of authority to discourage the use of a tool that can prevent the spread of a devestating disease for arbitrary reasons" she/he would probably say that yes, it is immoral. It probably wouldn't be until you pointed out that this is what the Pope did that you might get an argument (depending on how attached that particular Catholic is to the claims made by the Pope - nice thing about the Catholic Church, not everyone buys official dogma).

Anthroslug said...

And yes, a more responsible attitude towards sex would stem the spread of AIDS, but part of a responsible attitude is using the tools available to protect one's partner and oneself, so by discouraging the use of condoms, the Pope is discouraging a major component in a responsible attitude towards sex.

Kay said...

“If there was reason to believe that without condoms, people would significantly reduce sexual activity, then I would agree with your assessment of the Pope's comments. However, this does not appear to be the case,”

I think that is the point. Responsibility should be a bigger factor. I think we need to be asking ourselves, why hasn’t education and condom usage stopped the spread of diseases… not just AIDS and not just in 3rd world countries, but across the board? Is it because people aren’t using them? Or because the education and condom spread isn’t reaching people who are high risk? I don’t know. I do think, however, that throwing yet more condoms and even education toward a problem that doesn’t seem to be responding to condoms or education might not be the best way to fix the problem. I don’t have a solution, just asking questions.

But even if we quibble about idea 2… I still think point 1 is valid on its own.. we can’t stop the spread of disease by the spread of condoms… not completely anyway and not by condoms alone. Which brings us to point 3 which I think is valid no matter if we keep 1 and 2 or neither or a combination. Personal responsibility, the ability to say “hmm bumping uglies with you might lead to sickness, I better not do that, or at least not do it bareback” is the only sure fire way I can think of to have people enjoy disease free sex.

For more on this vein check out

And as for the moral authority thing… again I think the title fits… even moral authorities make judgment calls that people might not like or agree with or follow. Yet many people still claim to believe in the moral authority (coughGodcough) We can argue semantics or “should/shouldn’t” all day but the essence is that many people view the Pope as a moral authority so there is nothing wrong with those of us who don’t view him as such at least recognizing that other do. Even if that makes them in our eyes misguided or wrong.

As for your post script… the catholic church discourages the use of condoms for reasons unrelated to disease… so the fact that he is opposed to them should be rather obvious and not worth y of much note. But I think we are in agreement about responsibility and using tools and such.

Anthroslug said...

Neither I, nor anyone I know of who is critical of the Pope's comments, has ever claimed that condoms alone were sufficient to stop the spread of HIV. However, in those places where the spread has been slowed, stopped, or reversed, condoms have been one of the tools used, and an important one. Look towards Uganda for a great example (well, it was a great example, until U.S. foreign aid policy began to promote a more ideologically-driven approach and the gains began to be lost).

If the official teachings of the Catholic church have traditionally been geared towards a truly responsible approach to sex, I might concede that the Pope was pushing for your point #3, but, historically and recently, the church has pushed an ideologically driven (rather than fact or reality driven) approach to sex and reproductive health (for example, officially prohibiting condoms), which is rather the opposite of being responsible.

As to the Pope as a moral authority - the Vatican spokesman is asserting that the Pope is a moral authority for everyone, not just Catholics or even Christians more broadly, but everyone. Well, as part of everyone, that means that I am free to comment on whether or not he is a moral authority. If they had not included me (as part of everyone) in the list o' folks that the Pope supposedly has moral authority over, I'd not have room to comment - but they did so I do.

Kay said...

I think we can agree that the Pope is A moral authority, but yes, not everyone’s moral authority as was stated.

And I also think we agree regarding condoms as an essential tool but that condoms alone aren’t going to fix the problem.

I guess my attitude toward the article in general was more of “well, yeah… and?” The Pope is anti condoms. The Pope thinks condoms won’t fix AIDS. The first statement is obvious and not really news worthy. The second is, well obvious and not news worthy either.

And yes I think we are degenerating into semantics, so I will bow out since I think we mainly agree.

Responsible Sex FTW.

Anthroslug said...

I had a similar reaction to the Pope's comments - they are, as I have said, stupid and dangerous, but nothing that hasn't been part of the official line for quite some time. I wouldn't have bothered writing anything at all if it weren't for the Vatican's response to criticism.

Evan Davis said...

I think the point is entirely moot since 12% of the continent of Africa is Catholic. That percentage includes those who were sprinkled as an infant and never went back so the percentage is more like 5%. Also the high rates of HIV transmission have been attributed to tribal rights of passage where the adolescent has sex for the first time.

So, the Pope's coments are somewhat ineffective even if he was spouting idiotic rhetoric. Sadly the spread of Catholocism might actually help stop those tribal rights of passage, reducing the transmission of HIV. I never would have thought that the spread of Catholocism would be good for anything.

Anthroslug said...

The problem is that the Catholic clergy is relatvely powerful and persuasive, even amongst many non-catholics, and Catholic charities are very active in Africa (to be fair, these charities do alot of good, but this one point can be problematic). So, their minority status doesn't stop comments from the Pope from having an impact.

Also, I am aware of the rites of passage to which you refer (we've talked about this before), but those rites are not necessarilly as common as you may think, and even if they were, their impact alone would be minimal (do the math and work out how many sexual contacts result from them). HIV transmission is occuring due to a variety of problemsin both sexual activity, drugs, and also (frighteningly) medical care. All of these vectors have to be managed, and stopping the rituals of a small number of people isn't going to put a plug in the problem.