Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pope Benedict and the twlight of the Catholic Church

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Let's just come right out and say it. No beating around the bush. No politically correct hand wringing to protect the delicate sensibilities of those with porcelain constitutions. Let us not fret about the tin plated outrage of those who believe that the word "faith" is a cosmic get out of jail free card that lets them say or do anything.

Pope Benedict, head of the Roman Catholic Church, believed by his followers to be the vicar of Christ who speaks with ultimate authority on all things, is wrong. In fact, "wrong" is not strong enough a term. The man is wicked, deluded and completely out of touch with reality. He apparently has no concept of human suffering and no true desire to put the enormous wealth of his church, which he oversees from his palace in Rome, to work to truly help those in need.

Pope Benedict has nothing relevant to say in the 21st century. Nothing profound. Nothing meaningful or useful. He has shown the that last remnant of the Roman Empire has long since lost whatever vigor it might have had. He guides his lumbering church into a long twilight he refuses to recognize. Where a world with increasingly complex problems needs leadership, Benedict continues to try and fight the Reformation. He is a walking, talking anachronism that appears to have been dropped in the 21st century from the dark ages.

I cannot, nay, I will not be kind about this. There are parts of the world where his word is still the law, where concepts of democracy, freedom and liberty do not yet hold the position they do in the west. Places like Africa. And there the pope has condemned people to a horrible death.

If this all sounds a tad melodramatic, well, consider the facts. In Africa some 22 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than 25 million have already died because of the virus. Countless others suffer from the ravaging effects of the virus on their bodies. Poverty and education levels are poor and petty tyrants lord over much of the continent and would rather use what resources they have fighting each other or their own people than invest in proper public health education.

Into this humanitarian disaster comes the pope to pronounce that condoms not only will not help stem the rates of HIV infection, but in fact will exacerbate the problem. Only an uneducated fool, a villain, or an insane person could utter such a thing. Medical science has proven beyond any doubt that condoms play a major role in preventing HIV infections.

One cannot underestimate the impact this will have in a part of the world where the pope's orders are taken very seriously. In fact, the impact of religious meddling into things they know nothing about has already been felt in Africa. In Uganda, home to some of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, once was getting a grip on the problem. It adopted what is called the ABC approach to public sexual health - abstinence, monogamy and condom use. The results were impressive having a massive impact on HIV infections rates. Then Uganda's first lady become a born-again Christian and using the agenda of American evangelicals, brought about the end of the ABC approach in favor the theological driven naivete of "abstinence only". Studies in the United States, a country with greater wealth and much higher education levels, have show abstinence only programs will, at best, delay sexual activity for about a year. Children "educated" in those program are also more likely to engage in unprotected anal sex, not practice safe sex when they to have it and as a result are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy or STD.

So predictably, when Uganda fell under the sway of evangelical "sex-ed" the results were tragic. HIV infection rates doubled in the first two years of the abinstance only approach, which also actively discourages the use of condoms.

Real people suffer. Real people die. Real people are left trying to pick up the pieces. Not that this appears to really worry the Catholic church, which in recent years has turned its attention to the pressing issues of whether or not limbo actually exists, resurrecting the medieval con-job known as indulgences, and ensuring that everyone knows the only real Christian church happens to be the one Herr Ratzinger presently presently presides over. News to those non-Catholic churches I'm sure.

Meanwhile, despite all the talk about social justice, the church continues to display the kind of behavior that makes one wonder if they grasp meaning the term. Consider the case recently in Brazil where a nine year old was raped by her step father and made pregnant - with TWINS. In Brazil, abortion is illegal without a court order, which is normally issued only if the pregnancy is a threat to the mother's life. In this case it was a no brainer. The child was nine. The doctors determined the pregancy had a pretty good chance of killing her and the court order was issued.

Now the church stamped its feet, apparently unconcerned with the suffering of a pre-teen rape victim, and insisted the child carry the twins to term and deliver by cesarean section. That carrying the babies and birth could kill the child was no never mind to the church who, when their protests failed, excommunicated the girl's mother and her doctors after threatening to move to have them both charged with murder.

Who did the church not excommunicate or otherwise threaten? The rapist stepfather. Why? Because apparently the abortion that saved the girl's life was a more serious crime than raping her in the first place.

Consider that carefully. The victim of a rape, her mother and her doctors all threatened by the church. For the atheist, excommunication is meaningless. For a believer, it is serious business. But, the church has nothing to say or do about the rapist who had been attack that girl since she was six.

This is justice?

The church is simply blind to suffering. This is because, in part, of the Vatican's muddled view of suffering and evil. Like Mother Teresa, who held that suffering was good and the poor, the sick and the dying should just accept their woeful lot in life. Her reputation of her as a friend of the poor is a myth. She was a friend of poverty whose cult of suffering kept people sick and poor rather than help improve the lives of those who needed help. It is only through a complete disregard for what people suffer can someone say, as Mother Teresa did: "
I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."

So the Pope, who lives in the lap of luxury, can travel to Africa and pronouce that condom use makes the spread of AIDS worse only because his view of the world is hopeless bent, twisted by a theology that had no regard for plight of the poor and suffering and sick. And given the problems of the world today and the need to marshal people to cope with them, the church has become little more than a road block and an enemy of those who suffer the most.


miohippus said...

Here's a letter from a defender of the pope;

Abstinence and fidelity are the only solutions
National Post Published: Friday, March 20, 2009
I commend Pope Benedict for his hard stand against artificial contraception, which thwarts the natural generation of life. His position is meant to provide Catholics, as well as non-Catholics, with a moral compass for authentic freedom. Freedom does not rest in one's ability to do as one pleases.
Pope Paul VI rightly predicted, back in 1968, that failure to follow the dictates of natural law regarding contraception would lead to a lowering of moral standards, a rise in infidelity and promiscuity, a lessening of respect for women and government-enforced limitations on population.
Those who advocate condoms to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS are simply aggravating the problem. The only foolproof and morally legitimate solution to preventing AIDS is abstinence and marital fidelity.
Paul Kokoski, Hamilton, Ont.

miohippus said...

Also, from the Niagara Falls Review;
POPE BENEDICT XVI is under attack in the world media, including the editorial page of the Niagara Falls Review, for stating that encouraging condom use is actually making the AIDS epidemic worse in Africa.
The reaction has been predictable and puzzling. Predictable in that the usual politicians, health officials, and spokespeople for various affected constituencies have issued statements ranging from outrage to dismissiveness.
Condom use, say its promoters, has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS.
Puzzling, however, is the apparent lack of understanding in what the Pope said.
AIDS "cannot be overcome with advertising slogans," said the Holy Father, referring to the education programs championed by many.
What's needed, he said, is "the humanization of sexuality," and "true friendship, above all with those who are suffering."
Space limitations prevent repeating his entire response but I think I've expressed the main points.
The point here is simple enough: Encouraging the use of condoms is an implicit invitation to increased promiscuity.
More people having recreational rather than matrimonial sex inevitably increases the possibility of spreading HIV/AIDS.
This is not only common sense, it actually has scientific support.
There is a "consistent association shown by our best studies," between higher condom use and higher HIV infection rates, says Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
As for the Pope facing opposition from within the Church, one must take careful note of the source.
The Review editorial quoted "a Catholic organization, Catholics for Choice."
This is a dissident group that is Catholic in name only. It has no official standing, it routinely thumbs its nose at the teachings of the Church it purports to be faithful to, and it represents only a minuscule portion of the 1.3 billion or so of the world's Catholics.
Despite billions of dollars for research and treatment, major ad campaigns, and widespread promotion of condom use, the epidemic continues to spread.
By the way, it's a bit of a misnomer to call condom use "safe sex" since the AIDS virus, which is many times smaller than male sperm, can pass through latex, resulting in a condom failure rate of three per cent to 20 per cent, depending on which study you read.
The Pope, on the other hand, is suggesting a solution that offers a 100 per cent rate of success.
Joe Hvilivitzky,

eohippus said...

I agree with you Grant. Somehow, a church that preaches about a god of love has turned into a bunch of rich old virgin males bent on punishment, empty of compassion, only here to spew dead dogma. Any arguments that religion at least provides comfort to people in need ought to be dead now.

miohippus said...

by the way, Richard Dawkins, says that the pope is stupid;

On PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula, Dawkins also says that the pope is evil, and he was misquoted in the above telegraph story.

Anonymous said...

The head of Harvard's Aids Prevention Center agrees with the Pope:

"Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Center at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies said this week: “The best evidence we have supports the Pope’s comments."

In an interview with the National Review Online, Mr Green said: “We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”

He said condom distribution could lead to “risk compensation”, meaning that, once furnished with condoms, people were more likely to engage in riskier sexual behaviour.

. . .

a leading author on the fight to combat AIDs today backed Mr Green’s theory. Dr Helen Epstein, author of The Invisible Cure, Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa, said that concurrency can “give rise to a vast interlocking network of stable sexual relationships that serves as a virtual superhighway for HIV, placing at risk large numbers of people who may think they are safe because they are not typically “promiscuous”. For example, some men have two girlfriends or two wives, (or a wife and a girlfriend) with whom they sleep regularly. One or both of those women may have another regular partner – and those men may have other regular wives or girlfriends – and so on.”

A molecular biologist who has co-designed an AIDs prevention programme based on combating concurrency in partnership with the non-profit organisation Population Services International in Mozambique, Dr Epstein added: “In Africa most HIV transmission takes place in long term relationships. People use condoms in casual relationships, and with prostitutes, but that accounts for a relatively small part of the epidemic in the "AIDS epicentre" of East and southern Africa .”

miohippus said...

Hello Anonymous;

Condom use may not have saved Africa from an AIDs epidemic, because not many people use condoms consistently, as Edward Green has shown in the article you're talking about.

That does not mean that the pope is right when he says,
Aids.. "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even 'aggravates' the problems".

The pope is against the use of condoms, and wasn't pointing to any of the cultural problems that Green wrote about in his article.

The vatican had already given misinformation on condoms, which claimed they were ineffective.

"In 2003 a senior Vatican official claimed condoms had tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass, exposing thousands of people to risk.

The former head of the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, said: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoan. The spermatozoan can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom." "