Pope's Anticondom Statements Really Bad Timing

With HIV infecting 3 percent of D.C. residents, the Catholic leader's statements seem irresponsible.

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I have to say, the pope has strange timing. During the same week that D.C. health officials report that at least 3 percent of residents carry the HIV virus that causes AIDS, Pope Benedict XVI declares during a flight to Africa that the distribution of condoms won't "resolve" the AIDS problem but will actually make it worse. A New York Times editorial yesterday took the pope to task, saying that while he has "every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds...he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus."

After all, the latest analysis of studies from the Cochrane Collaboration shows that condoms reduce the transmission of HIV by 80 percent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls latex condoms "highly effective" at preventing the spread of AIDS when they're used consistently and correctly.

Unfortunately, the rate of infections is up in the United States, and women are more susceptible than men to getting infected through heterosexual intercourse. As my colleague January Payne has pointed out, HIV/AIDS strikes black women particularly hard. African-Americans account for 64 percent of the more than 126,000 living U.S. women who are HIV-positive.

Last year, I spoke with South African Bishop Kevin Dowling, a Catholic who has garnered a lot of attention by choosing to defy his church's absolute ban on condom use. He came to this decision after witnessing the AIDS epidemic up close for 17 years in a mining town west of Pretoria. There, impoverished women living in tin shacks sell their bodies to feed themselves and their children. Most contract the deadly HIV virus from having unprotected sex. Dowling opened an AIDS clinic there in 1996 and now oversees nine clinics that treat nearly 1,000 adults and children with lifesaving antiretroviral drugs.

Listen to my interview with him above, and judge for yourself. Should the pope stay silent on condom use or speak out against it?