Posted by: JLLH | May 13, 2009

Condoms and Catholicism


I’m sure everyone has heard about the Pope’s provocative comments regarding what he believes is the best solution to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. This new story broke a few months ago and it’s such a controversial topic that I just figured that someone else had posted about it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I’ll give my two cents. I find it presumptuous at best that the Pope thinks he has the answer to a problem that has stumped doctors, sociologists, anthropologists and the significant portion of the public health community for at least two decades. The problem is multidimensional, community-specific and has its origins in deeply entrenched systemic problems both in the United States and abroad. I’ve been to South Africa on a trip that looked at the role of public health nursing in the HIV/AIDS crisis and I’m currently working on a CDC-funded research project that assesses the behavior that puts people at high risk for HIV infection. I also work at an HIV/AIDS clinic. And I’ve learned that a) the problem is humblingly complex, involving the social, economic, political, historical, cultural and personal aspects of the individual and b) the population at the highest risk for infection are generally those marginalized in society whose gender, childhood and socioeconomic status impede their ability to make autonomous, rational, emotionally attuned and well-informed decisions (most of which are required to maintain a position such as abstinence, especially in Africa). In making the blanket statement that abstinence is the answer the Pope is grossly belittling the idiosyncratic nature of the problem. You cannot assert solutions to a problem to which you remain predominantly ignorant. Until you live in a community and understand the needs of its people – how they think, what they value, what they struggle with, etc… – you should not even flirt with the idea that you know how to solve that community’s problems.



  1. Thanks for posting this jenna! I believe the catholic church is wrong about a number of issues: birth control, gay marriage, male only preisthood to name a few and while this does not necessarily make me get up and leave the church it does make me sensitive to the fact that there are far more “cafeteria catholics” than imagined and I also think this is not only a good thing but it should be this way. The Catholic Church holds conscience in high esteem and if you follow your conscience, making an effort to be fully informed and open to new data whatever conclusion you reach is held in higher regard than doctrine and dogma.

    I first learned about this in my ethics and war class in regards to the just war tradition. The church upholds both nonviolence and just war traditions simutaneously.

    Who can deny that the church was wrong about condoning slavery, the oppression of women, and militaristic crusades? Institutions are made of people and people are often wrong, it just pains me to see the pope endorse this kind of view believing he is sticking to tradition and justifying it when undoubtedly he’s alienating many and perhaps causing great harm. I cannot help but remember the article we read in the first semester seminar about the dangers of certitude.

  2. I agree with both of you on this. I am also what you would probably a cafeteria catholic and birth control teaching is certainly one of those reasons. Whether I choose to abstain or not the fact of the matter is that abstinence isn’t an affective solution, it just wont happen for many people throughout the world. I also think the Pope fails to consider married couples where one spouse has HIV/AIDS unless I missed some sort of exception. But precisely the problem with teaching on birth control is that there is no room for exceptions, it is an absolute.

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