Thursday, March 19, 2009


Regular readers of Greenberg Rants know that I am not a big fan of Pope Benedict XVI. This week, as a sequel to his greatest hits of 2009 – (First, re-admitting an excommunicated priest to the church who denies there was a holocaust; and then elevating a bishop to a prestigious post in Austria, even after the bishop said Katrina hit New Orleans because of widespread sin, and that Harry Potter books were demonic) the Pope said this about the fully out-of-control AIDS epidemic in Africa:
"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."
Watch this report:

Ben, as I’ve come to call him, is still a proponent of sexual abstinence. Me? I believe they need to get an Internet connection in the Vatican. Then I would not have to publish the following numbers, but as usual, the numbers tell the story: According to UNAIDS, there are about 22 million people infected with HIV in Africa. In 2007, three-quarters of all AIDS deaths worldwide were there, as were two-thirds of all people living with HIV. The statistical evidence linking poverty and AIDS is a matter of record now, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa are among the most poverty-stricken regions in the world.

If there is one clear element of Ben’s strikingly na├»ve worldview, it is simply this: The human condition does not improve relative to the number of papal dictums. The human condition improves when there is a concerted effort to lift the weakest among us at least to a level of socio/economic mediocrity. Much of Africa has never enjoyed even that luxury. This is an egalitarian view that on paper anyway would seem to be in concert with Catholic teachings.

Until Africans have enough to eat and drink, and a consistent continent-wide awareness program about HIV/AIDS is instituted, the estimated 3,000 AIDS-related deaths there per day will only increase. Since there is no perfect solution to the AIDS pandemic, condoms are the best hope at this moment. Ben fails to recognize the widespread ignorance among the nation’s poor, and he clearly expects a level of self-discipline that has never existed, and likely will not. It is stunning that Ben fails to understand that if a sexual act will enable two starving Africans to forget about their hunger pains and their hopelessness, even for a few minutes, the act will take place.

And what are Catholics to do, when their spiritual leader is so far removed from the reality of desperation? On some level it is reminiscent of 1961, when the birth control pill was first introduced. How many millions of Catholics worldwide used and continue to use the pill, even though the Vatican forbids it? And if the masses of Catholics have made their views known by adopting birth control, what does it say about the religion itself that it refuses to listen? Further, when will public safety and humanity finally trump the Catholic hierarchy’s continual proclamations of religious dogma? How many more starving Africans with no health care facilities or food must die before the Bens of the world are finally displaced by the basic Judeo-Christian tenets of respect for human life and dignity?

Instead of talking to reporters about his opinions, perhaps Ben might want to go on a listening journey. First stop? The World Health Organization, to become more educated about the pandemic. Next? Individual settlements of Africans dealing with hunger, thirst and AIDS. After that, a stop in Washington, D.C. where it was reported just this week that fully three percent of the population there is infected with HIV. Then Ben could continue on to meet with the world’s top researchers to see the slow progress in battling a virus that mutates to battle the few effective medications that have been invented. After Ben holds dying babies in his arms as he sweats under his elaborate robes, perhaps then he can form a more informed opinion. Until then, he needs to simply step out of the international conversation about AIDS, condoms, et al., and let those whose mission is the preservation and quality of human life step forward.

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