By Ireneaus Chia Chongwain
Every epoch is confronted with a problem that defines its time. One of the defining hallmarks of the 21st century in years to come will undoubtedly be the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This explains why any comment on the subject attracts a lot of attention. This is even more so as the disease continues to pose veritable scientific, spiritual and ethical challenges.
Little wonder Pope Benedict XVI's opposition to the use of condoms as a means of fighting the AIDS pandemic caught media attention worldwide, provoking a controversy and generating such diverse interpretations; some of them out rightly ridiculous.
We live at a time the quick-fix syndrome is en vogue. Attitudes and trends are quickly adopted, just as they are hastily discarded. Little or no attention is given to seeking durable solutions to the problems humanity is confronting. As the HIV scourge continues to infect and affect more and more people, especially on the African continent, where more than 22 million people are reported to be living with the disease, there are moves to put in place measures, some very unethical, in desperate attempts to cut back infection rates.
Contrary to what the hostile media has been saying, insisting that by opposing the use of condoms, the Catholic Church is actually encouraging the spread of HIV, there has been no better advocate on the Church's position than the Pope himself. When quizzed on the Church's involvement in the fight against the AIDS pandemic ahead of his Afrcian visit recently the Pope explained, "I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against Aids is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant'Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick.”
A solution must not be necessarily simple to be effective. It must not be difficult either to be effective, but when solutions seek to destroy or overshadow the basic tenets on which the Church’s teachings are anchored, there is an urgent need to resituate discussions in their proper perspective. Besides preaching fidelity and abstinence, the Catholic Church is also supportive of ethically correct measures that seek to assuage or overcome human suffering.
In the face of growing human suffering many people understandably become impatient, but the Church's decisions on moral questions are simply immutable. They are not fluid enough either to take the form of whatever container they are put into. The Holy Father did not simply dismiss the use of condoms in fighting AIDS, but proposed what he considers factors that can help, if implemented, in bringing about real progress in the fight against AIDS. "The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering.”
The Church is also opposed to the use of condoms, as her officials have explained, because they give users a false sense of security and invulnerability. Even scientists have confirmed condoms are not a hundred percent effective in combating AIDS. When they are not used correctly or break, they do not serve the purpose for which they have been made. But where the condom breaks, fidelity resists; where the condom ruptures, abstinence stays.
Those who have been throwing stones at the Pope do not refute what he says, but argue his prescriptions are out of tune with reality. The massive distribution of condoms in Africa has not cut back the spread of the AIDS pandemic. On the contrary it continues to rise. A serious problem requires an equally drastic measure to solve. Where the condom has shown its limitation, behaviour change and the Church's recommendation cannot. So, let the Pope's detractors and critics leave him alone!