The pope and Aids

September 11th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, religion | 159 Comments »

This week the pope is in London. You will have your own views on the discrimination against women, the homophobia, and the international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape. My special interest is his role in the 2 million people who die of Aids each year.

In May 2005, shortly after taking office, the pope made his first pronouncement on Aids, and he took the opportunity to come out against condoms. He was addressing bishops from: South Africa, where somebody dies of Aids every 2 minutes; Botswana, where 23.9% of adults between 15 and 49 are HIV positive; Swaziland, where 26.1% of adults have HIV; Namibia (a trifling 15%); and Lesotho, 23%.

This is ongoing. In March 2009, on his flight to Cameroon (where 540,000 people have HIV), Pope Benedict XVI explained that Aids is a tragedy “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.” In May 2009, the Congolese Bishops’ Conference made a joyful announcement: “in all truth, the pope’s message which we received with joy has confirmed us in our fight against HIV/AIDS. We say no to condoms!”

This is not a remote problem. The pope’s stance has been supported, in the past year alone, by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster. “It is quite ridiculous to go on about AIDS in Africa and condoms, and the Catholic Church,” says O’Connor. “I talk to priests who say, ‘My diocese is flooded with condoms and there is more AIDS because of them.’”

Some have been more imaginative in their quest to spread the message against condoms. In 2007, Archbishop Francisco Chimoio of Mozambique announced that European condom manufacturers are deliberately infecting condoms with HIV to spread AIDS in Africa. Out of every 8 people in Mozambique, one has HIV.

It was cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo of Colombia who most famously claimed that the HIV virus can pass through tiny holes in the rubber of condoms. Again, he was not alone. ‘The condom is a cork,’ said Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Spain, ‘and not always effective.’

In 2005 Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that scientific research has never proven that condoms ‘immunise against infection’. He’s right, they don’t. They stop the virus which kills you from being transmitted during sex. Which is very, very useful of them.

How effective are condoms? It’s wise not to overstate your case. The current systematic review of the literature on this question published by Cochrane found 14 observational studies (because it’s unethical to do a randomised trial where you actively stop people using condoms, since you know that they work, but just want to find out how well they work).

These studies generally looked at HIV transmission in stable couples where only one partner has HIV. Many of them looked at transfusion patients and haemophiliacs. Overall, rates of HIV infection were 80% lower in the partners who reported always using a condom, compared to those who said they never did. 80% is pretty good. I’d like 100%, for everyone’s sake. I have 80% (although condoms do also protect against cervical cancer, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and more).

In fact, there is no single perfect solution to the problem of Aids: if things were that easy, it wouldn’t be killing 2 million people every year. Telling people to abstain doesn’t make everyone abstain, and telling people to use condoms won’t make everyone instantly and consistently use condoms.

You do everything all at once, urgently, because 2 million people are dying every year. ABC is a widely used prevention acronym in Africa: abstain, be faithful, use a condom. Picking one effective measure out and actively campaigning against it is plainly destructive.

Ratzinger has proclaimed that “The most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions.” This is a ludicrous claim. They’re the only major influential international political organisation that actively tells people not to do something that works, on a huge scale.  Their own figures show that their numbers are growing in Africa, even faster than the population does.

I don’t mind what anyone believes, I’m happy for you to suggest abstention. But sabotaging an effective intervention which prevents a disease that kills 2 million people a year makes you a serious global public health problem.

.


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159 Responses



  1. Chris Nedin said,

    September 11, 2010 at 3:53 am

    Australia’s Pell is angling for the top job, so he’s first in line to support Ratzinger. Some of his comments in support of Ratzinger here are:

    The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous

    Of course it’s ridiculous. The lie here is in pretending that people are advocating the position that condoms can solve the AIDS crisis. No-one, anywhere, is suggesting that condoms alone can solve the crisis. Condoms are an essential part of an integrated approach which includes health and social initiatives.

    Pell quotes an unnamed health worker who, Pell claims, told him condoms were not an effective solution to Africa’s AIDS problem.

    He made the point that the people in remote areas are too poor to afford condoms and the ones that are available are often of very poor quality and weren’t used effectively

    To any sane person this is a problem of access not effectiveness, but not Pell. Try substituting “food”, “water’ or “antibiotics” for “condoms” above and see if the best action is to take them away from people.

  2. kkbundy said,

    September 11, 2010 at 3:56 am

    It make me wish that a pedophile supporting and non reproductive sex opposing speaker for God would come speak in my home town. Oh the thrill of learning would surely ignite in my soul again.

    Although, the Catholics missionaries have often been willing to crawl into the gutter with the poorest of the poor (I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa for two years and saw how they acted compared to the Protestant missionaries) their solutions for that poverty have always been absurd. The think-happy-thoughts birth control and poverty reduction plan has seldom functioned at all. It astounds me that a religion that currently accepts evolution and most science thinks that people will just stop having sex except to reproduce. Yeah, that it work. To top it off they will simply make up vast amounts of “evidence” to support their claim.

    The only answer is as it always is: to find what really works and use it. Yeah, science.

    Blessed Atheist Bible Study @ www.blessedatheist.com

  3. BlessPapaBenny said,

    September 11, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Why is it that Thailand a Buddhist country has a massive HIV infection rate compared its near neighbour the Catholic Phillipines? Behaviour is the significant factor by far.

    Condoms promote a false sense of security that in turn leads to a riskier sexual behaviour pattern that in turn leads to higher infection rates. Look at the infection rates in the Gay communities of the Western nations, all they ever talk about is safe sex and condoms yet infection rates are going through the roof as they generally engage in much riskier sexual practices with multiple partners.

    I’m a medical specialist myself and the pope is right, there are also many others better known than me in the Medical community that agree entirely with the approach of the Catholic church to this problem.

  4. steviesteveo said,

    September 11, 2010 at 4:45 am

    I’ve never been wholly comfortable with the idea that there are devout people who are religiously following the church doctrine on the condom thing while simultaneously ignoring the no sex outside of marriage thing. It might be an unrealistic position for them to hold but the catholic church doesn’t leave it at “do whatever you want but no condoms”.

  5. Mark said,

    September 11, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I agree with what you say but shouldn’t we be wary of people who quote relative risk reduction in their arguments?

  6. JBT said,

    September 11, 2010 at 8:21 am

    On the face of it the Vatican policy disproportionately kills Catholics. Given that AIDS is a long term semi-hereditary disease I wonder if a Ratzinger advisor has an epidemiological model showing the conversion rate they require to eliminate other religions?

  7. Antares said,

    September 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

    @Mark: Often true, but when the prevalence of a condition is high, a big RR reduction also translates to massive absolute numbers.

    I think the message in Ben’s book was not “all RR numbers are evil” but “beware, they can be used to overstate a point.”

    In fact, it can also be used to understate a point: “My new therapy unfortunately only makes 0.1% of the patients completely immortal.”

    :-)
    Daniel

  8. adzcliff said,

    September 11, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Shame there wasn’t space for discussion about the liturgical reasons why the RCC is so opposed to contraception. I assume it’s something to do with the stance that it’s immoral and against God’s will to deny life – which is odd, as we deny life every time we abstain from having sex with whomever we can?

    Anyway.

    Adzcliff

  9. Karellen said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:06 am

    But sabotaging an effective intervention which prevents a disease that kills 2 million people a year makes you a serious global public health problem.

    That’s a bit of an understatement.

    I’d have thought it makes you a mass murderer, a perpetrator of crimes against humanity, or, as he is instigating this as national policy, a committer of democide.

  10. Bonsai said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:26 am

    This has always been the position of the RC Church, through successive Papal administrations. Even the more progressive Pontiffs (Pope John Paul I, ‘Il Papa del Sorriso’ – the first Pope to use ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ in public addresses – who died only a month into office; and Pope Paul VI, of ‘Vatican II’, which among other things introduced the vernacular into ceremony) have always been anti-contraception. Pope Paul VI, in his Humanae Vitae promulgated in 1968, made the following four prophecies of what would come to fruition if the teachings of the RC Church were ignored:
    1. Irresponsibility rewarded
    2. Loss of respect for women
    3. Abuse of power
    4. Misuse of the body, notably: ‘contraception would lead man to think he had unlimited dominion over his own body. The desire for unlimited dominion over one’s body extends beyond contraception to IVF treatment, euthanasia, and certain kinds of organ transplants’.
    At some UK RC schools (depending on local governance, which may choose to side-step these kinds of papal bulls, as they pertain to the curriculum) students are taught in Biology and Personal and Social Education about the rhythm method or non-penetrative intercourse as the only ‘morally acceptable’ form of birth control.
    Clearly when it comes to Sex Ed the RC Church has never been progressive (see also stuff about the RC Church in Ireland and Magdalene asylums which were institutions run by nuns for so-called “fallen women”) – others would go further and regard such policies and the history of this human institution as ‘morally reprehensible’.

  11. BlessPapaBenny said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:50 am

    steviesteveo is correct

    How is any Catholic seriously going to the advice on having sex outside marriage yet dutily following his advice not to use a condom?

    Catholic teaching is the correct way to deal with AIDS. Some of this propaganda against the Ctholic church is just funny because its so ignorant!

  12. ukslim said,

    September 11, 2010 at 11:20 am

    @BlessPapaBenny

    “How is any Catholic seriously going to the advice on having sex outside marriage yet dutily following his advice not to use a condom?”

    Because our brains are wired to really, really want sex. They are not wired to really, really want to use a condom.

    Hence a Catholic will find it difficult to resist the urge to have sex when the opportunity arises (and hey, it’s just a few Hail Marys to even the account); whereas sticking to the no-condoms rule is easy peasy.

  13. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Oh for pity’s sake.

    You have just undermined all the confidence I have in you for being objective and scientific.

    If you are going to condemn Catholic sexual morality as a risk for HIV you cannot simply split Catholicism into “using a condom” or “not using a condom” and then base your evaluation on whether or not condoms redue the risk of transmission. You have to factor in *everything*.

    Is a religion that discourages anal sex, prostitution, polygamy and sex outside of marriage going to result in millions of HIV deaths? Of course not.

    And will the people who condemn marital sex without a condom also condemn the far more risky activity of anal sex? Of course not.

    The idea that Catholics spread HIV has about as much truth in it as the idea that Jews spread the plague. No wonder you have ended up using some statistics for countries which have tiny Catholic populations (South Africa 7.1%, Botswana 5%, Namibia 13.7%) in order to illustrate your case. I guess you assume your audience is bogoted enough to think all Africans are the same? Heaven forbid that we see some attempt to explain why majority Catholic countries seems to have less HIV infections, on average, than their non-Catholic neighbours.

  14. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 11:27 am

    “bogoted” should, of course, have been “bigoted”

  15. StuartJRitchie said,

    September 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I’m slightly conflicted about this. Isn’t Ben doing here what he criticises in other people every week – i.e. making an argument based on dodgy or non-existent statistics?

    Here’s what I mean. Surely to make quite strong statements like ‘[the Pope is] a serious global public health problem’, you’d have to have statistical evidence that a) more Catholic countries have higher HIV/AIDS rates or b) a high proportion of HIV/AIDS sufferers are devout Catholics who listen to what the Pope and his pals say.

    As far as a) goes, I don’t think this is the case. From a look at the AIDS rates at www.avert.org/africa-hiv-aids-statistics.htm, it isn’t at all clear that the most Catholic countries have high AIDS rates. Some examples: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is 55% Catholic and has a very low AIDS rate. Botswana, on the other hand, has a very high AIDS rate, and according to Wikipedia is only 5% Catholic. I just don’t see a correlation there, but I freely admit I haven’t done a proper analysis. But I don’t think Ben has, either.

    As for b), I could imagine such research might have been done, I just haven’t seen it. Ben doesn’t refer to any of it, though.

    Surely the strongest thing we can say about the Pope and condoms at the moment is that he isn’t helping. We can make stronger statements like ‘he is a major global public health problem’ when we have data to back it up. Is this reasonable?

    (Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not defending the Pope – indeed, I’m giving a talk at my local Skeptics in the Pub next week about how evil he is. I just don’t see that the case against him holds up in this particular instance.)

  16. paddyfool said,

    September 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    @Mark,

    You have a point – obviously, that 80% reduction through consistent use wouldn’t equate to an 80% reduction in the 2.3 million adults infected with HIV each year, since you’d never get all of them to use condoms consistently anyway. And not all of them are infected via unprotected sex in the first place (most, but not all).

    But even if what remains achievable via increased condom use is much more modest – to pluck a statistic entirely out of the air, say, a further 20% reduction in new annual infections – you’re still talking over 400,000 people protected from HIV infection per year. With knock-on benefits for the people they won’t infect in years to come.

    That’s something worth achieving, and unsubstantiated accusations about condoms sabotage it.

  17. paddyfool said,

    September 11, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    @Stuart,

    I don’t think you can put the uniquely high prevalence of HIV in southern Africa down to a lack of Catholicism. After all, one of the countries in the region (Mozambique) is largely catholic, and like the rest, they’ve ended up with a high HIV prevalence too (12.5% of the adult population; still not the worst, but they haven’t had some of the other contributing factors in neighbouring countries). Although, oddly enough, the catholics there don’t really stand out from other denominations in terms of their risk profile; sitting somewhere between the born agains on one side, and the muslims and anglicans on the other in terms of condom use for instance (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20485853).

  18. Bonsai said,

    September 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Martha Nussbaum in her book: Sex and Social Justice (OUP, 1999: pp.41-45) created a list of basic capability-rights, “…at the heart of [John] Rawls’ project…the idea of the citizen as a free and dignified human being.” (1999: p.46). Here are the first three:
    1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length . . . ; not dying prematurely . . .
    2. Bodily health . . . Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; being adequately nourished . . . ; being able to have adequate shelter . . .
    3. Bodily integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; being able to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault . . . ; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.

  19. reprehensible said,

    September 11, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Though I’m sure God loves the Bestie Boys Ben, as do I, I think he’s really into Drum & Bass…

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=c26s1xQkCLY

    On a slightly more serious point, with a 90% infections v’s exposure rate, blood transfusions are by far the riskiest form of transmission. Maybe the Jehovah’s Witnesses have got it right. (I said slightly).

  20. TheBoyPaj said,

    September 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Ben isn’t saying that Catholicism is the reason for the AIDS problem. He is saying that anyone who actively discourages condom use is a bad influence. The religion is irrelevant. The individuals in question could be anti-condom for other reasons. They’re still dangerous.

  21. Indy said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    @Blesspapabenny – feel free to laugh at those of us who are so ignorant as to criticise the RCC. And I will feel free to shudder at your comments (which I believe can be summed up as: ah those promiscious gay people – not like all us right-thinking straight people…..)

  22. Indy said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Perhaps if the RCC could at the very least stop with the pseudo-scientific explanations of why they think comdoms are not the answer, they could be taken more seriously. And of course they can continue to preach abstainance. Of course this is less risky – but as someone else has already said, our brains are wired to really, really like sex!

    It’s just that when you put your doctrine so far above the suffering of actual people it’s hard to take the institution seriously

  23. jodyaberdein said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    RE: 2

    ‘Condoms promote a false sense of security that in turn leads to a riskier sexual behaviour’

    What is the evidence that this is the case? How do you know that the infection rate would not be higher in the ‘gay communities’ were we to discourage condom use?

  24. John said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    BlessPapaBenny said: “Condoms promote a false sense of security that in turn leads to a riskier sexual behaviour pattern that in turn leads to higher infection rates. Look at the infection rates in the Gay communities of the Western nations, all they ever talk about is safe sex and condoms yet infection rates are going through the roof as they generally engage in much riskier sexual practices with multiple partners.”

    Actually the research strongly suggest (I have discussed this at length with doctors at GUM clinics and various HIV support groups) that it is because gay men, particularly young gay men, are NOT using condoms which is responsible for the rise in HIV in gay men in the Western nations. They seem to think this is an ‘old mans disease’ and it will not affect them.

    This is compounded by the fact that due to success anti-viral therapies many infected with HIV do not become ill and die.

    Not so long ago many gay men would be aware of friends and lovers becoming ill and dying from HIV within a sort period of time and the use of condoms was starkly obvious to prevent infection. This, fortunately, is not happening but it also leads to complacency which includes the avoidance of unprotected sex and the use of condoms particularly in young men.

    Having looked at the research it is quite clear that condom use does protect against HIV infection and to claim otherwise is irresponsible.

    I also find the comments that gay men “engage in much riskier sexual practices with multiple partners” a stereotypical generalisation. I presume the writer has never been on 18 to 30 holiday and such like to observe the sexual behaviour of young heterosexuals.

  25. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    “After all, one of the countries in the region (Mozambique) is largely catholic, and like the rest, they’ve ended up with a high HIV prevalence too”

    According to Wikipedia Mozambique is 32.8% Catholic.

  26. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    “Ben isn’t saying that Catholicism is the reason for the AIDS problem. He is saying that anyone who actively discourages condom use is a bad influence.”

    Don’t spin.

    He attacked the Catholic Church for teachings he disagreed with using an argument that (if followed logically or consistently) would actually having him condemning people who believe in the acceptability of anal sex and observing that the Catholic Church was, on the whole, a positive influence.

    If sexual behaviour is right or wrong according to the risk of HIV infection then the Catholic Church’s position comes out well. Taking one aspect of the Catholic Church’s teaching, applying this standard to it in isolation, and then failing to apply the same standard to any other sexual behaviour is obviously hypocritical, sectarian and made worse by the attempt to encourage people to lump together all Africans as a largely Catholic, largely HIV-infected mass.

  27. puffin said,

    September 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    @oldandrew
    @StuartJRitchie

    Some things to bear in mind when comparing proportions of people infected with HIV across different countries (which is known as an ‘ecological’ comparison in the jargon, and is relatively low down the hierarchy of evidence appraisal):

    1) reported % infected can be very different from actual % infected. Botswana, for example, has one of the best health care systems for HIV in Africa and therefore very good rates of detection (ie, they identify, record and treat HIV well). Other countries, may, for lack of political will or indeed resources, not have such good rates of detection despite a similar (or perhaps even greater) proportion infected. Botswana could therefore outwardly “look” worse off.

    2) a pattern observed across countries or populations does not necessarily hold true in individuals. To assume it does, is known as an “ecological fallacy” (named for the ecological comparison one is making: see here for a clear explanation jratcliffe.net/research/ecolfallacy.htm).

    3) When considering correlations such as “rates of X are higher in people A than in people B, and people A are more likely to do behaviour Z “, it is important to remember that a correlation does not imply causation, and that the (likely very complex problem) can probably be explained by many more factors than behaviour Z alone.

    Hope that helps.
    Puffin

  28. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    “Some things to bear in mind when comparing proportions of people infected with HIV across different countries”

    Why are you aiming this at me? My objection is to the use of statistics about HIV infection in majority non-Catholic African countries in an article trying to connect the Catholic Church with the spread of HIV. I’m not trying to argue that the nation statistics prove the Catholic Church’s teaching prevents HIV, just that this is more likely than the opposite interpretation which is implicit in the original article. Generally though, I am against the whole enterprise of judging the morality of people’s sexual behaviour by the statistical risk of HIV transmission and somewhat frightened by the historical precedents of previous attempts to try to link religious minorities with the spread of diseases. This article isn’t exposing Bad Science, it is sectarian mythmaking.

  29. notdimjustthinking said,

    September 11, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Ben,

    Here’s an area for you to explore. The countries with the highest rate of HIV in Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho,Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe) are all mining countries and they’re all in sub Saharan Africa. There is a male mobile population going round the mines in that area. Now, normally in a pandemic, you put the shutters up and don’t allow people to do this, but South Africa wants the cheaper labour it gets from Lesotho and Swaziland. So how much is this contributing to the spread of Aids in this area and isn’t it time we investigated it?

  30. squitchtweak said,

    September 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    @Blesspapabenny – ‘Look at the infection rates in the Gay communities of the Western nations,’. I’m not really understanding your point there. The straight people in Western nations also have condoms, so condoms hardly explain why the rates of STDs are higher in gay people. I would think gay people are more likely to have promiscuous sexual behaviour because they do not have to worry about pregnancy, and their community is already going against what’s traditional so they are not so much ashamed of promiscuity. Unfortunately, this does lead to more STDs. It would lead to an awful lot more STDs without condoms. The ABC message is best. If you won’t do A, at least do B and C. There is no point in pretending everyone will do what you think is right or best.

  31. ornot said,

    September 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    At the risk of sounding stupid and bigoted, I’d like to second the suggestion that the trouble with the Roman Catholic Church’s position is not that they are saying “good Catholics don’t use condoms”, they are instead spreading misinformation about how condoms protect against HIV. Consequently, while good Catholics who abstain remain free of the disease, the rest of the Godless masses who believe that condoms are worthless, or even a positive health risk, massively increase their risk.
    This even fits with the quoted statistics that countries with low percentages of Catholics, whose population are none the less exposed to the RCC’s “condoms are dangerous” message have higher rates of infection.
    I, and I’d hazard to suggest Ben also, would have no problem with the RCC if they enforced their anti-condom message on the basis that God hates latex, rather than telling both their own flocks and the population at large that condoms don’t work, when they demonstrably do.

  32. steviesteveo said,

    September 11, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    ukslim:

    I think the basic problem of catholic agencies preventing access to condoms on the basis of inaccurate statements is unconscionable but that flat out blaming the rapid spread of an STD on the doctrine of the infamously unkeen on sex catholic church (officially only within marriage, leery of divorce, no remarriage etc) has always seemed like a stretch to me. The problem with abstinence is that it’s very unrealistic rather than it doesn’t control the spread of disease. That definitely doesn’t stop lying about condoms during an HIV epidemic being a stupid and grubby thing to do.

    I think the unsafe policy side of things kinda comes down to how closely you can blame organisations for when people only partly follow their instructions. Is it not a bit like when a doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics and the patient only takes them until their symptoms go away and you get a resistant strain? It’s not the doctor’s policy on antibiotics that’s really the problem there. If someone truly followed the full catholic doctrine on sex they’d only have sex with pretty much one person in their life – their spouse (nothing before marriage, no infidelity, no remarriage). In that (ideal) situation nothing spreads no matter what you use and it’s fine not to use condoms. On the other hand if you’re only following the bit about no condoms then it’s an incredibly unsafe policy.
    I think it kinda comes down to how closely you can blame organisations for when people only partly follow their instructions. Is it not a bit like when a doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics and the patient only takes them until their symptoms go away and you get a resistant strain? It’s not the doctor’s policy on antibiotics that’s really the problem there. If someone truly followed the full catholic doctrine on sex they’d only have sex with pretty much one person in their life – their spouse (nothing before marriage, no infidelity, no remarriage). In that (ideal) situation nothing spreads no matter what you use and it’s fine not to use condoms. On the other hand if you’re only following the bit about no condoms but not the monogamy then it’s an incredibly unsafe practice.

  33. steviesteveo said,

    September 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Huh, that’s never happened to me before. Turns out I didn’t lose that paragraph after all

  34. coventrian said,

    September 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I’m afraid Ben is guilty of bad science. I’m reminded of the time some years ago when the problem of litter in lay-bys was solved by the simple expedient of – removing the litter bins. Sometimes common-sense solutions to complex problems have paradoxical results.

    Also, since we’re dealing with science, where’s your evidence for the Catholic Church conducting an ‘international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape’?

    www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/AR2009032702825.html

    The Pope May Be Right

    By Edward C. Green
    Sunday, March 29, 2009
    When Pope Benedict XVI commented this month that condom distribution isn’t helping, and may be worsening, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, he set off a firestorm of protest. Most non-Catholic commentary has been highly critical of the pope. A cartoon in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted in The Post, showed the pope somewhat ghoulishly praising a throng of sick and dying Africans: “Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms.”

    Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

    In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations’ AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa. UNAIDS quietly disowned the study. (The authors eventually managed to publish their findings in the quarterly Studies in Family Planning.) Since then, major articles in other peer-reviewed journals such as the Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa. In a 2008 article in Science called “Reassessing HIV Prevention” 10 AIDS experts concluded that “consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

  35. oldandrew said,

    September 11, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    “they are instead spreading misinformation about how condoms protect against HIV”

    There are bishops who have said some pretty awful things, but let’s not pretend that it is the official position of the church, or that it somehow justifies these indiscriminate attacks on the Catholic Church.

    Instead of quoting the worst things anyone ever said Ben could have quoted CAFOD, which is an official agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales working in the developed world, which has a policy which commits it to “ask[ing] all partners working in the area of HIV prevention to give individuals full information about all means of HIV prevention and that this advice is scientifically correct”.

  36. StuartJRitchie said,

    September 11, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks, Puffin, for your slightly condescending points, but all three of them equally confound anyone trying to say ‘the Pope’s statements make the AIDS problem worse’. Still no hard evidence provided for remarks as strong as Ben’s above, then?

  37. Martin said,

    September 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    like wot oldandrew says. If people pick and choose amongst the things they find convenient to obey, blame those people not some easily villified – amongst so-called enlightened liberal circles – figurehead.

  38. Quanten said,

    September 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    BlöassPapaBenny and other which answered in the same way, the problem is, the RCC knows very well that people *WILL* have sex outside of mariage. It is a fact of life, and yelling “bastinence!” will not change that.

    So at what point do you make the RCC responsible for using their position as church for orienting the people toward a policy which will automatically create a lot of death ? If the RCC was saying “don’t vaccinate” or “don’t do blood transfusion” would you say the same things.

    IMHO the fact that they have an intrensigent “no condom” policy and they misinform people is irresponsible. And killing people.

    They could simply say “we are agaisnt condom use, especially for contraception, but if you are going to sin, at least don’t combine your adultery sin with a murder sin and use a condom”. The message would still be the RCC is against condom use for contraception, but accept at least that people don’t contaminate each other with a deadly virus.

    And that make IMHO the RCC responsible for a lot of death.

    About condom not protecting : well yeah. It ain’t 100% . But *NOT* using them is a ZERO percent protection. So better have people use them, if they go into risky behaviour, rather than go into the risky behavior *naked*.

  39. kim said,

    September 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    It’s not a question of picking and choosing, Martin. It’s simply a question of one partner (let’s say the wife) being devout and refusing to use condoms, and the other partner (let’s say the husband) being unfaithful or using prostitutes.

  40. Bonsai said,

    September 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Also: it would be great if Vatican City could pay taxes:
    ‘The Holy See is a monarchical-sacerdotal state, which is to say that it operates as a monarchy in which the Pope is the “king” (monarchical), with senior members of the church hierarchy, appointed by the Pope, as the governing body (sacerdotal) […] There are no taxes, no restrictions on the import or export of funds, and no customs or excise duties payable in the Vatican City. Employees of the Vatican pay no income tax and no customs duty on gasoline or goods that they buy in the Vatican. Non-Italians enjoy allowances on their monthly salaries’.
    The only Trade Union, Association of Vatican Lay Workers, was formed in 1985 and was recognised by the Vatican authorities in 1993. The first ever strike in the Vatican was organized by the ADLV in 1988.

  41. ragnar said,

    September 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    “They’re the only major influential international political organisation that actively tells people not to do something that works, on a huge scale”
    Ben as a fellow doctor I’m disappointed. You are breaking all your own rules.
    The catholic church promotes monogamous marriage- 100% effective. 100%>80%
    You are of coures entitled to your own opinions on the catholic church but I suggest you stick to the facts.
    Perhaps you are being sponsored by durex and need to declare this!

  42. BlessPapaBenny said,

    September 11, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    @Indy

    “but as someone else has already said, our brains are wired to really, really like sex!”

    I think the Catholic church is fully aware of this, however calls upon Catholics to adopt abstinance outside of marriage. Humans are a higher species and have the ability to make responsible decisions and sacrifices about such matters for ourselves.

    You however advocate for a world where we all act like farm animals and act upon and fulfil every basic sexual urge. It is this animal behaviour that has been responsible for the massive rise in single mothers and the spread of STIs and AIDS especailly in the gay community. True Catholics aspire to higher standards.

  43. PeteF said,

    September 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Surely the question is simply is it or is it not responsible to persuade people that using condoms is a bad idea?

    Ben has outlined some research which suggests that it is irresponsible to do so, as using a condom is better than not using one in protecting infection.

    He has not said that Catholics spread HIV, he has said that the not using condoms makes infection more likely, and pointed out that the head of the Catholic church has argued against using condoms. This was all done with reference to the scientific and not the religious content of statements made by individual members of the RCC. They are using bad science and I don’t think anyone can deny it, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their position from any other angle.

  44. Bonnieb said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    I wonder if the pope would oppose seat belts and air bags as promoting reckless and excessive travel by automobile. From his reasoning, the injury and death rate from auto travel should have increased from the use of these devices. Of course the reverse is true, but why let the facts get in the way of ideology!?

  45. James Wilson said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    The Catholic church’s ‘rules’ on sex are based on medieval theories of human biology and imposed by a those who believe celibacy is heavenly. My measured response to this lunacy: fuck the pope.

  46. tankgrrl said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    @BlessPapaBenny said “Why is it that Thailand a Buddhist country has a massive HIV infection rate compared its near neighbour the Catholic Phillipines? Behaviour is the significant factor by far.”

    Sorry. You can’t point to the Philippines as a win for “Papa Benny” or his predecessor. The _reason_ is not the church being so dang awesome that AIDS slunk away in shame, it was the quick establishment of PNAC in the 90s. The PNAC headed off AIDS through the education of its people and the reduction of the spread of all STIs, through things like education of medical facts and… **promotion of condom use** despite objections by local bishops. The bishops are still winging about it despite PNAC’s success.
    www.ucanews.com/2010/02/23/aids-council-defends-condom-promotion/

    Science 1
    Papa Benny 0

    @BlessPapaBenny said “Condoms promote a false sense of security that in turn leads to a riskier sexual behaviour pattern that in turn leads to higher infection rates.”

    Says you. No, wait. Says your pope. You are just parroting him while providing no evidence that this phenomenon exists or would outweigh the benefits.

    @BlessPapaBenny said “How is any Catholic seriously going to the advice on having sex outside marriage yet dutily following his advice not to use a condom?
    Catholic teaching is the correct way to deal with AIDS. Some of this propaganda against the Ctholic church is just funny because its so ignorant!”

    First question? Answer = what your religion calls sin. People want to have sex. It’s our primary biological function. You can’t stop it, neither can the pope.

    Second part? OK. So on either extreme of the curve we have the choice of:
    A) a society with risker habits (above normal promiscuity) but condom usage (80% added prophylaxis)
    B) a society with already normal risky habits (promiscuity exists, no denying) and no condom use (0% added prophylaxis ) just the pope wagging his finger.

    I’ll take A every time as any child with a calculator can sort out those odds. Until the church can truly say that it soothes the loins of its followers to such a degree they stop fornicating, which they cannot… this argument is bollocks. Abstinence programs have failed in ever testing of them. And abstinence is the primary “Catholic teaching”.

    Science 2
    Papa Benny 0

    On top of that, you’re basically saying that everyone, Catholics included, are just sitting there not having riskier sex, but aching to involve themselves in it at the drop of a hat. But that they don’t for fear of AIDS, not fear of eternal damnation or the ire of “Papa Benny”. Which means the Catholic church has lost from the start. Or are you going to seriously have us entertain the notion that it’s only non-Catholics there that are getting infected? This twisting and turning of fact to suit your dogma eventually eats its own tail.

    Science 3
    Papa Benny 0

  47. tankgrrl said,

    September 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    @BlessPapaBenny said “I’m a medical specialist myself and the pope is right, there are also many others better known than me in the Medical community that agree entirely with the approach of the Catholic church to this problem.”

    On top of studies showing abstinence-only campaigns don’t’ work (and may even be more harmful due to ignorance), I can name entire nations and their disease prevention arms which will disagree with any handful of names you can toss out. Shall we count coup? I’ll start:

    CDC. UNAIDS. Belgian Health Ministry. Phillipines PNAC. Germany. Great Britain. etc. Oh, but let’s not forget Thailand, which you mentioned for its high incidence. What has been credited for the dramatic reduction in infections in recent years? Condoms. Not dogma.

    Science 4 + a huge number of nations and organizations
    Papa Benny 0

  48. snoozeofreason said,

    September 11, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    “South Africa, where somebody dies of Aids every 2 minutes”

    The rest of the article was great, but this was not. Deaths per minute are not a good way to express mortality statistics.

  49. pv said,

    September 12, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I don’t really believe Pope Benny’s top priority is or ever has been preventing the spread of HIV. I think the Catholic Church is so up it’s on backside (both figuratively and literally), and so out of touch with reality, that HIV is really only a side issue. The main priority is complying with Catholic dogma – no sex outside of marriage and most definitely no contraception. How to deal with the spread of HIV absolutely must fit into that dogma. It’s simple.
    Everything that bloody hateful man and his bloody minded sidekicks and supporters utter on the subject is playing with words in order to hide their very simple motive. Claims they make about condoms are simply another example of lying for Jesus.
    It seems to be what they do best. When has the Catholic Church ever put saving a human life above its own religious dogma?

  50. Andy Graham said,

    September 12, 2010 at 12:41 am

    This has been said already above but I’m repeating it for the people who still don’t seem to get it.

    If two people have sex, using a condom is a very effective way of preventing those people transmitting an infection such as HIV between them. It is mendacious to suggest otherwise. Moreover, it is foolish and dangerous to tell your followers not to use condoms given their clear efficacy. That’s it. No God, no accusations of spreading HIV, just plain facts and a little life-saving pragmatism.

    Like sunscreen: sure, it’s best not to go out in the sun too much, if you do you should wear clothing to prevent sunburn. But, and this bit is like condoms, if you MUST go out, and you don’t want to wear a shirt, at least wear sunscreen. Someone who told you not to wear sunscreen because it’s morally wrong? A dangerous fool.

  51. oldandrew said,

    September 12, 2010 at 6:32 am

    “So at what point do you make the RCC responsible for using their position as church for orienting the people toward a policy which will automatically create a lot of death ?”

    Rephrasing a claim as an implicit assumption in a rhetorical question doesn’t make it true. The problem here is the complete lack of evidence that the church’s position “creates” death.

  52. jkth said,

    September 12, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Isn’t it simply fantastic how, somehow, it becomes possible for a lot of posters to excuse the fact that the Catholic Church claims that condoms are useless, simply on the basis of them also preaching that sex should remain within marriage?

    Suddenly, religion does take over after all.

    Don’t wear a seatbelt – because if you do not speed, you probably won’t get (very) hurt.

    As has been mentioned above, abstinence based approaches do not work well and quite likely never will; it is against our animal instincts to abstain.

  53. oldandrew said,

    September 12, 2010 at 6:37 am

    “It’s simply a question of one partner (let’s say the wife) being devout and refusing to use condoms, and the other partner (let’s say the husband) being unfaithful or using prostitutes.”

    Well this creates the one situation where, in theory, a devout Catholic might be at greater risk by not approving of condoms. Unfortunately for the anti-Catholic argument, a moment’s thought would make one realise that it is also the situation where infection is likely to occur regardless of attitudes to condoms because married couples are likely to have unprotected sex anyway (to start a family) or to have sex often enough for the 80% risk reduction to be insufficient to prevent transmission.

  54. oldandrew said,

    September 12, 2010 at 6:42 am

    “My measured response to this lunacy: fuck the pope.”

    Loyalist slogans. Nice.

    That’s really convinced me this is about science not sectarianism.

  55. oldandrew said,

    September 12, 2010 at 6:52 am

    “If two people have sex, using a condom is a very effective way of preventing those people transmitting an infection such as HIV between them. It is mendacious to suggest otherwise. Moreover, it is foolish and dangerous to tell your followers not to use condoms given their clear efficacy.”

    Do you think just repeating the argument makes it any more convincing?

    If “efficacy” against HIV transmission is the criteria by which we judge the wisdom of beliefs about sexual behaviour then we wouldn’t end up condemning Catholicism. If people pick and choose which Catholic beliefs to judge in this way, and don’t apply the same standard to non-Catholic beliefs, then it is pretty obvious that their motive is religious intolerance.

  56. JJ said,

    September 12, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I’d like to throw the following anecdote into the mix:

    My parents are very religious (not RC but Methodist). A few years ago there was a phrase doing the rounds in christian circles ‘you can’t fill a moral vacuum with a lorry load of condoms’ which applied to AIDS in Africa, underage pregnancy in the UK, and just about anything else to do with sex outside of marriage. My dad loved this phrase and repeated it whenever he could.

    Over the past couple of years he’s got involved with a charity in Mozambique trying to help and support people with AIDS. He’s been out to Mozambique several times, and his view has now completely changed. The charity he works with is run by local churches of all denominations (including RC). What really struck my dad was the way men openly admitted to having multiple partners, despite being married. One man told him he had 27 children by his wife and 3 girlfriends, all in different cities. This was a common story, and it seems to be part of the culture in Mozambique for men to have multiple partners at the same time (although I don’t know what the women think about this).

    HIV is still a massive taboo, and often people will not admit to having HIV, so their partners often get AIDS without even realising it. Knowing this, its not difficult to see how HIV is spread quickly, and infection rates are high. My dad now sees that condoms are essential in stopping the spread of HIV in Mozambique.

    While he was there he saw many, many heartbreaking situations due to AIDS. One particularly awful one was four siblings trying to survive after their parents died of AIDS, the eldest one was 15yrs old, and he sold razor-blades in the local market. If he didn’t sell any they didn’t eat. My dad went to see them with a local charity worker – they hadn’t eaten for 3 days. There were many other cases like this one.

    I relate this as its important to realise that HIV in Africa causes devestation of families and communities. If people won’t abstain, or even admit they have HIV, condoms are the only way to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.

  57. ferguskane said,

    September 12, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    It is not just in the third world that the misinformation is spread. It is also in Catholic state schools in the UK. Of the two Catholic schools I know of (via friends who teach), in both sex education is almost non-existent and that which does exist includes misinformation on condoms such as described my various people above. I’m sure there must be many more. On the other side, yes, the majority of those at the Catholic schools do appear to be ‘better behaved’ than those in an average state school. But is this any consolation for the minority that were badly educated, did not use condoms and became pregnant / got an STD?

  58. ferguskane said,

    September 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    @Ornot. Exactly, the misinformation probably hurts non-Catholics more than Catholics. The Catholics have the balance of misinformation and abstinence/monogamy. Non-catholics are left with a watered down message on ‘safe sex’ and whatever lifestyle they live.

    @Coventrian. You are clearly misinterpreting the evidence. “Consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level” shows that efforts to get people to use condoms have not worked as we would wish. It does not show that condoms do not work and it does not show that advising use of condoms is anything but sensible. It also does not show that promoting condom use increases infection rates via promoting promiscuity more than promoting safe sex. The later is possible, but where is the evidence?

    Even if many do not use condoms, those who do will have a much reduced risk of infection. By misinforming these people, we potentially kill them.

    Sometimes clear evidence is virtually impossible to obtain, so we have to rely on that evidence that we have, combined with the use of logic. Why can’t the Pope just say: ‘engage in absence, monogamy and use of condoms’? If we compare this against ‘engage in absence, monogamy, but don’t use condoms’, it is hard to see how the Popes current choice is not resulting in more deaths – independent of the possible positive effects of promoting a ‘Christian’ lifestyle. He could do promote both, but based on dogma and arrogance he does not.

    Oh…. and I’d be interested in your ‘good science’ facts/studies regarding litter bins and their paradoxical effects.

  59. ferguskane said,

    September 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    @oldandrew. Imagine I am a teacher. I give my pupils one of two sets of rules

    1. Abstinence is the best guard against STDs. Monogamy is the second best. If you are going to have sex, use a condom and get yourself and your partner tested.

    2. Abstinence is the best guard against STDs. Monogomy is the second best. Condoms don’t work and they are against God. If you have sex, get yourself and your partner tested.

    Which of these messages are likely to guard my pupils best against STDs? Here we must rely on logic, because a controlled trial would be unethical.

    If I give the second message, which has a clear falsehood built in, am I not culpable if my pupils get an STD, get pregnant, or both?

    (To help with the second question. Imagine I was talking about rock climbing and I said: The safest option is not to climb. The second best option is not to climb high. Don’t use ropes, they don’t work). Would I be culpable if they went out climbing without a rope, fell and died.

    Is the Pope likely culpable in deaths from AIDS?

  60. kim said,

    September 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    @bonnieb: “I wonder if the pope would oppose seat belts and air bags as promoting reckless and excessive travel by automobile.”

    Well, there is a debate about that. There is evidence that greater safety measures (in cars and elsewhere) do apparently promote a false sense of security, resulting in riskier behaviour. And in a way it seems obvious to me that a sensible person would avoid having sex with an infected person if condoms weren’t available, whereas if condoms were available, they might take the risk. Of course, lots of people aren’t sensible, particularly in matters of sex.

    @JJ – thanks for that contribution. It illustrates, very sadly, the point I was trying to make earlier, that the abstinence message only works if both partners abstain. Unfortunately, if one partner is unfaithful, there is always an innocent victim.

  61. oldandrew said,

    September 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    “@oldandrew. Imagine I am a teacher. I give my pupils one of two sets of rules…2… Condoms don’t work… If I give the second message, which has a clear falsehood built in, am I not culpable if my pupils get an STD, get pregnant, or both?”

    I’m getting a bit fed up with people talking as if it is some kind of official Catholic teaching to say that using a condom when having sex with an HIV infected person does not reduce the chances of infection or conception. At the very least, please don’t direct questions about such a position to me. I have not, and would not, defend the Catholic Church on this if it was true that this was their position.

  62. rhymos said,

    September 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. This suggests that birth control is widespread despite the power of the church. Their role in Africa has been to reinforce existing cultural/social trends and influence aid givers. Their power can be over stated. An organisation, run by old men denying their sexual nature, was never likely to be the best judges of how to respond to this epidemic. The unnatural state of celibate priests is central to the churches failure to understand this crisis.

  63. msjhaffey said,

    September 12, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Somehow I didn’t expect an article that began with “You will have your own views on the discrimination against women, the homophobia, and the international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape was going to be unbiased.

    Perhaps I should write a rebuttal beginning “You will have your own views on the education of millions, the thousands of clinics for the poverty-striken and the millions who are fed daily by CAFOD”

    Telling people not to use condoms, which can restrict the spread of AIDS is wrong. But bear in mind

    As a contraceptive measure, the condom is about 97% effective per year (statistics vary.) This implies that it’s not perfect for preventing the exchange of bodily fluids and if recommended as a means of preventing AIDS, then users need to be aware it’s not foolproof.
    For a number of reasons, people may choose not to use a condom. This might be culture, pleasure (“as much fun as swimming in a rain coat”), ignorance that they are infected, guilt (“if I ask my wife to have sex with a condom she will get suspicious”), etc.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the Catholic Church is wrong to discourage condom use as a way of preventing the spread of AIDS. I am discouraged to see that it is again being used as an excuse by bigots to support a one-sided view of the church, the vast majority of whose members teach and practise love for humanity.

  64. ferguskane said,

    September 12, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    @oldandrew.

    My rhetorical question was meant to address your comment about the complete lack of evidence that the church’s position “creates” death. I read ‘the church’ as ‘the pope’, my apologies. I think the question I posed is still relevant if we are more careful and represent the Pope’s teaching as ‘Do not use condoms’ and remove the condoms don’t work bit – although I don’t think the falsity of the later is made sufficiently clear by the Pope. Without this clarity, it does leave people teaching, in schools, that condoms are ineffective -even if this is not the norm.*

    I don’t know how you define official Catholic teaching. It is certainly the case that many many Catholics will use condoms and that many Catholic leaders suggest respectfully ignoring the Pope on this matter. However, as far as I am aware, the POPE’s view is that condoms should not be worn and many people see the Pope’s stance as important. Equally there are those within the Catholic church who appear to publicly spread falsehood without public reprimand (Archbishop Francisco Chimoio being a striking example).

    The article was about the Popes’s attitude, so that was what I was referring to. I believe that he could prevent more deaths by issuing clear advice to use condoms, (along with the other good advice). The converse being that by not doing so he is responsible for not preventing those deaths. Can I prove it? Not empirically (hence the analogous examples). Could the pope prove it? Perhaps, he’s the only one that could give it a go.

    *I’ve been trying to find out what the official attitude on sex education in Catholic schools is, and what I’ve seen worries me. The following is a rather moderate article on the topic: archive.catholicherald.co.uk/features/f0000523.shtml. The rest of the stuff I found is generally more extreme.

  65. notdimjustthinking said,

    September 13, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I made a comment about how the six countries with the highest HIV rate in Africa, (South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe) all belong to the mining industry and that there is a male mobile population going round the mines taking HIV with them. The comment hasn’t appeared.

  66. oldandrew said,

    September 13, 2010 at 6:54 am

    “My rhetorical question was meant to address your comment about the complete lack of evidence that the church’s position “creates” death”

    Which it didn’t do, becuase once again Catholic sexual morality was reduced to a belief in not using a condom. You can’t take the issues of condoms in isolation.

  67. ChippendaleMupp said,

    September 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

    It was worth reading through all that heavy stuff to get to the Awesome Beastie Boys video.

  68. skyesteve said,

    September 13, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Okay – as others have said – this is NOT about God or any particular religion or, indeed, one powerful church leader.
    It’s about the risks of misinformation or selective advice and the responsibilty people in high places have to do the right thing.
    Do condoms reduce the risk of infection? The evidence would strongly support that they do. And this is not just about HIV. It’s about chlamydia that causes covert pelvic inflammatory disease leading to infertility or human papilloma viruses that increase the risks of cervical cancer. These are also sexually transmitted infections. Should we not take steps to protect young people (and, in particular, young women) from these? Should we abandon the HPV vaccination programme because some people are worried that it might make young people more likely to have unprotected sex?
    In the ideal world everyone’s first sexual partner would be their first and only one. In that way sexually transmitted infections would effectively die out (other than those which can be congenital in nature). But that’s not going to happen anytime soon no matter your ideology.
    It’s a bit like the use of street drugs. In an ideal world no-one would take them but they do. So given that fact isn’t it better to try and alter their behaviour to minimise the risks associated with it?
    So surely in the meantime 97% protection from a condom has to be better than 0% protection from no condom and anyone advocating otherwise is being irresponsible?

  69. mybackpages said,

    September 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Isn’t the problem that catholic church doesn’t understand the difference between population level effects and individual level effects?

    Most of the studies in Cochrane look at long term sero-discordant couples but this kind of intervention is pretty unlikely to actually stop an epidemic. For that you need to combine condoms with health promotion, VCT,circumcision, abstinence, core group and bridging group interventions. The catholic church seem to be saying “condoms have not reversed an epidemic, therefore condoms do not work” rather than what they should be saying “condoms do work but are insufficient to stop an epidemic, abstinence is the only sure way”.

  70. elvisionary said,

    September 13, 2010 at 11:50 am

    The papal apologists are mixing up their absolutist and consequentialist ethics. As pv suggests, the fundamental objection to condoms is based on catholic doctrine on the sanctity of life. The catholic church has always been an authoritarian institution that claims divine authority for its rules. As such, its leaders struggle to allow for ethical shades of grey, or layers of moral acceptability.

    Just think about ABC for a moment. It is a simple moral ranking. What is stopping catholics from saying that A is better than B, and B is better than C, but at least C is substantially better than D? (D stands for “Don’t use a condom, sleep with a prostitute, then infect and ultimately kill your wife and children”). Catholics struggle with this, not because of the reason professed by PapaBenny and others (that allowing shades of grey on C makes it less likely that people will follow A or B), but because a sin is a sin is a sin.

    To turn the question around, if incontrovertible evidence were produced that the promotion of condom use (even as the third leg in an ABC framework) did not reduce levels of abstinence or fidelity, would that lead catholics to change their minds about condoms? It would not, because their objection to condoms is based on doctrine, not the humanitarian consequences of that doctrine.

  71. elvisionary said,

    September 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    PS There is a gender politics angle here too. Did anyone else splutter when reading Bonsai’s informative post above (#10)?

    If the objective behind the catholic position is to promote respect for women and to discourage misuse of the body, it has failed dismally. The non-usage of condoms is a tool for the oppression of women on an epic scale. It is a means by which men say, “I care only about my own pleasure, and I do not care whether you are infected or left with an unwanted baby”.

  72. Colonel_Mad said,

    September 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    A quick factual correction….

    Vincent Nichols is the current Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, not Cormac Murphy-O’Connor who retired a couple of years ago. Having said that I can’t imagine his beliefs regarding rubber johnnies are any more open minded.

    It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel attacking the Catholic Church on sensibilities and most forms of modern living I’d imagine?

    As ever, good article though.

    Jonathan

  73. fishyboy said,

    September 13, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    @oldandrew “You can’t take the issues of condoms in isolation.”

    Yes you can, and I think it’s right to do so.

    Many religious people cherry-pick which parts of their religion they follow, and silently ignore the rest. You probably know the kind of things I mean: homosexuality, infidelity, the use of condoms, talking snakes, etc. And Christians probably do this more than similar religions.

    Therefore it’s possible that someone might think that infidelity is okay, but that using a condom isn’t. After all, one out of two is better than none out of two, right?

    Maybe The Pope isn’t too concerned about such people?

  74. ferguskane said,

    September 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    @oldandrew.

    My question and example was designed to illustrate the benefit of leaving all the other Catholic teachings in place, but just to alter the pope’s message on condoms.

    As far as I can see the only argument against this is that the changing the pope’s message on condoms would undermine the rest. I don’t buy that.

  75. oldandrew said,

    September 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    “My question and example was designed to illustrate the benefit of leaving all the other Catholic teachings in place, but just to alter the pope’s message on condoms.”

    If that’s the argument then all you can say is “Catholic teaching is good for preventing AIDS, but this would make it even better” or “The Pope is doing a really good job with helping the church fight HIV, but this would make it even more effective”.

    For some reason though, people seem too full of sectarian hatred to say that, and instead we have crap like the original blog entry implicating the Pope in the death of 2 million people.

  76. ferguskane said,

    September 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    That the article criticised the pope’s role in the death of 2 million people per year, rather than blamed him for all the deaths. But yes, it was written in an inflammatory way.

    However, I think I would go further than you suggest, because if altering the message would save lives, then conversely, by not altering the message the pope is culpable in the deaths of those people (as argued above). Applying the same principal to myself: Even if I save lives through my profession and charity work, it would not exempt me of blame for other actions.

    As a declaration of interest, I guess I should say I am an Atheist and am not very keen on any religion. However, I only need to look at communist Russia/China to see what can be perpetrated by Atheist states. Thus we must judge on individual actions, and when they are wrong, they must be criticised.

  77. ferguskane said,

    September 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    sorry… remove the first word.

  78. peterJ said,

    September 13, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Linking the RCC to communist states perpetrating atrocities is pointing to the root of the problem. I.e., from a rational point of view there is no discernable difference between one arbitrary set of rules and another.
    In my opinion we always submit to irrationality if we take on dogmatic statements (regardless if it comes from a religion, an ideology or a new-age humanist) and treat them as if they have a value of their own, even if only in the context of their own irrationality.
    The point is not to ridicule a few old men that do their level best to preserve their power structure and influence while maintaining a deep seated aversion to the scientific method, but rather to show the consequences of their teachings and compare it to a more rationale or modern human rights ideal.
    Hence, I believe it is absolutely legit to blame the RCC for a higher AIDS death rate.

  79. MrsBBC said,

    September 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    After watching this evening’s Trouble with The Pope documentary on Channel 4, I was quietly hoping that you might tackle a blog entry on the subject; I look forward to reading through this tomorrow.

  80. pv said,

    September 14, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Linking the RCC to communist states perpetrating atrocities is pointing to the root of the problem. I.e., from a rational point of view there is no discernable difference between one arbitrary set of rules and another.

    They are both absolutist positions. And the Catholic absolutist position with regard to condoms (forbidden because they are a form of contraceptive) has, without a shadow of doubt led to a higher incidence of HIV and, therefore, to more deaths from AIDS. If condoms were an utterly useless form of contraception (so as to be not a method of contraception) then the RCC would have no objection to their use. And they would have no reason to lie about the usefulness of condoms in helping prevent the spread of HIV.

    Put simply the Roman Catholic Church is lying about the efficacy of condoms in the fight against AIDS. This is no surprise as they have lied and continue to lie about many issues, the latest of which has been child abuse.

    The Church has always put its continued existence above the needs of humanity, whether those needs are to be met by medical, scientific or social progress. The Church has a history of being against critical things that would improve the lot of humanity – women’s emancipation, abolition of slavery in the US, abortion, birth control, HIV prevention with barrier methods, stem cell research…

    When has the Catholic Church ever made a decision against strict adherence to its own arbitrary doctrines, even when adherence so clearly leads to a situation contrary to said doctrine? For example the RCC would prefer to see millions die from AIDS than approve the use of condoms as a preventative measure. Protests to the contrary are hollow rhetoric.

    The Roman Catholic church, like all such institutions, is absolutist and unthinking to its core. Any such activity masquerading as thinking (theology for example) is merely an exercise in contorting the world insofar as is possible into conformity with prescribed doctrine. Hence the thoroughly dishonest statements about condoms – because they are designed to prevent conception, and the additional benefit of preventing transmission of HIV is a side issue that cannot be allowed to undermine the RCC stance on contraception. How medieval can they be?

    Oh yes, I forgot the institutional abuse and rape of children.

  81. coventrian said,

    September 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    @ferguskane

    The problem with litter bins is that they can aggravate the problem they are supposed to solve. The bins attract litter and, if not emptied on a regular basis, become full, overflow and people dump their litter next to the bin. This does not need any scientific study, as this is a well-known pattern that can be observed wherever there are litter bins. Of course if people used litter bins responsibly then this wouldn’t happen – but they don’t.

    You say, ‘“Consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level” shows that efforts to get people to use condoms have not worked as we would wish.’ You can say that again.

    You ask for evidence?

    www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/320/5877/749?ck=nck

    ‘Two decades of experience and research provide new insights into the role of condoms for AIDS prevention in the developing world. This literature review and synthesis is based on computerized searches of the scientific literature and review of conference presentations, publications of national and international organizations, and popular media. Condoms are about 90 percent effective for preventing HIV transmission, and their use has grown rapidly in many countries. Condoms have produced substantial benefit in countries like Thailand, where both transmission and condom promotion are concentrated in the area of commercial sex. The public health benefit of condom promotion in settings with widespread heterosexual transmission, however, remains unestablished. In countries like Uganda that have curbed generalized epidemics, reducing the number of individuals’ sex partners appears to have been more important than promoting the use of condoms. Other countries continue to have high rates of HIV transmission despite high reported rates of condom use among the sexually active. The impact of condoms may be limited by inconsistent use, low use among those at highest risk, and negative interactions with other strategies. Recommendations include increased condom promotion for groups at high risk, more rigorous measurement of the impact of condom promotion, and more research on how best to integrate condom promotion with other prevention strategies.’

    I’m personally all for the responsible use of condoms and litter bins, but so far I’ve seen little evidence that enough people are as responsible as we’d like them to be.

  82. runes said,

    September 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    @ Coventrian

    I am sure I am not the only person confused by your post. You accuse Ben of bad science and post the strongest evidence for his opinion that I have seen!

    I am not sure that you read his post.

    You quote that condoms are 90% effective for preventing HIV transmission. You also quote that monogamy and absence can be more effective in some countries.

    Ben said that ABC is an effective and well tested approach and that telling people NOT to use C even if they do NOT use A or B is indefensible.

    Your source exactly and totally supposts Ben’s point.

    Furthermore – I accuse YOU of bad science in the same vein as your accusation – since you did not point out the possibility (indeterminable from the evidence in your blog) that the countries where condom promotion is not effective might be the countries where catholic dogma is most prevalent – i.e. the effect that Ben is complaining about! Certainly – Thailand is quoted as a success case and it is one country where the Pope has very little influence on the actions of the people.

  83. runes said,

    September 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    @oldandrew

    “Which it didn’t do, becuase once again Catholic sexual morality was reduced to a belief in not using a condom. You can’t take the issues of condoms in isolation.”

    Yes you can!

    As I – as a non catholic- understand it the fundamental catholic position is that adultery is a sin (after all – the prophets and apostles did not mention condoms). Lets be clear and consistent with Ben’s article – abstinence and monogamy (where adhered to) are more effective than condoms. So I am sure that NONE of us would have a problem with the Pope saying

    “Sex outside marriage is a sin. Good catholics do not do this. If you have sex outside of marriage you will burn in hell – and you might as well use a condom since that will stop the spread of AIDS”.

    The fact that he does not – turns this from a conversation about religous dogma to one of culpability.

    BTW – condoms were banned as I understand it to prevent their use INSIDE marriage to avoid pregnancy. It shows just how far the catholic church is away from morality and towards religous mania that this has attached to their use outside of marriage in an act which is a sin anyway!

  84. coventrian said,

    September 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    @runes ‘the countries where condom promotion is not effective might be the countries where catholic dogma is most prevalent’

    Except they’re not. You haven’t read the evidence e.g.

    ‘In Botswana, which has one of the world’s highest HIV rates, 43 percent of men and 17 percent of women surveyed had two or more regular sex partners in the previous year.’

    Less than 5% of Botswans are catholic.

    @runes ‘Thailand is quoted as a success case’

    ‘Let me quickly add that condom promotion has worked in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, where most HIV is transmitted through commercial sex and where it has been possible to enforce a 100 percent condom use policy in brothels (but not outside of them). In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows.’

    I believe in the ABC approach but have you considered that if the Pope promotes C, his authority to enforce AB is lessened. The sort of catholics who are prepared to ignore the church’s teaching on AB are hardly to be influenced by its teaching on C.

    Lastly Ben wrote that the Catholic church operated an ‘international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape’. This is hysterical nonsense.

  85. oldandrew said,

    September 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    “So I am sure that NONE of us would have a problem with the Pope saying “Sex outside marriage is a sin. Good catholics do not do this. If you have sex outside of marriage you will burn in hell – and you might as well use a condom since that will stop the spread of AIDS”. The fact that he does not – turns this from a conversation about religous dogma to one of culpability.”

    No, it turns it from a claim that the Pope has caused harm, to a claim that he has failed to do the maximum amount of good. Somehow though this then becomes presented as actual harm. We then have the ludicrous situation where people who would never dream of condemning the acceptability of anal sex, nevertheless, condemn support for unprotected vaginal intercourse in a faithful relationship.

    “It shows just how far the catholic church is away from morality and towards religous mania that this has attached to their use outside of marriage in an act which is a sin anyway!”

    As far as I can tell from this discussion the people doing this “attaching” are the people slagging off the Catholic Church. It is always a sign that somebody’s attack on the Church has fallen apart when people blame the Church for the attacks people make on it.

    Still perhaps you can refer me to the Vatican approved document that officially states that unprotected sex outside of marriage is morally better that using a condom when having sex outside of marriage.

  86. elvisionary said,

    September 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    @coventrian,

    I for one would settle for the pope doing nothing at all to “promote” the use of condoms if he’d only stop actively discouraging their use. Yes, he’d be missing an opportunity to do some good in this world, but that might be too much to expect.

    And precisely which words in the phrase “international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape” do you think are “hysterical nonsense”? It was very clearly “international” as it happened in many countries. It was very clearly a “conspiracy to cover up” – there were many people in the hierarchy who did not report these offences to the police or even remove the perpetrators from positions where they could do harm. And it was very clearly “mass child rape”, as it involved the rape or abuse of a large number of children. So the only question that even merits debate is whether the cover-up (as opposed to the assaults themselves) was technically criminal – and that would vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on the precise formulation of the law. But if I had been in a position of authority, had been made aware of such serious abuse, had failed to report it, and then sent the abuser out to do more harm, I’d consider the law to be an ass if I were not guilty of any crime.

  87. elvisionary said,

    September 14, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    @oldandrew,

    Sectarianism: bald men fighting over a comb.

    If you think that’s what this is about, you’re deluding yourself.

  88. elvisionary said,

    September 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Just thinking through coventrian’s accusation of hysteria. Setting aside the alarming complacency behind that attitude -can’t he see why the moral authority of the catholic church in general and the pope in particular are utterly shot ? – I was just wondering whether his point was that the conspiracy to cover up the abuse wasn’t international, because that implies a level of co-ordination and organisation that probably wasn’t there.

    The trouble is, I think a series of local conspiracies might even be worse. What kind of institution develops the conditions that enable such morally indefensible conspiracies to flourish simultaneously in many different places?

    But that’s off the point of this thread. The problem here is that for an ideologically sound catholic, a sperm that is stopped by a condom is as worthy of protection as a five-year-old child. Catholics might howl in protest at this suggestion, but that’s the basis of the doctrine, and that’s why catholics campaign against contraception being used as a means of saving lives. But if you think that comparison is absurd – or even obscene – then there is an easy answer: use the free will you think god gave you, and don’t be catholic.

  89. ferguskane said,

    September 14, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    @coventrian

    Well I would say to make effective policy you need evidence – even for litter bins. Yes, litter bins don’t work when they are not used properly. They certainly don’t work when they are full. And yes, I can buy that in once instance getting rid of litter bins reduced litter – especially if nobody was previously emptying the litter bins. That is not the same as saying we should not use litter bins.

    The same of course can be said of condoms: if not used properly they won’t work. Lots of figures are given for their effectiveness. But what do we mean by effectiveness? I think people often confuse efficacy and effectiveness – and thus downplay the potential utility of condoms, based on figures from people who don’t use them properly.

    Anyway, I asked for the evidence that promoting condom use increases infection rates via promoting promiscuity more than promoting safe sex (the paradoxical result referred to). That is not addressed in your quote. Your quote simply emphasises the need for more evidence (I’ve not read the paper yet).

  90. ferguskane said,

    September 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Incidentally. Picking out countries with a Catholic population vs countries with a non Catholic population is bit of a nonsense, whatever side of the argument you place your backside on. By cherrypicking the countries we compare, we could probably support any argument we might choose. Not only are there big cultural differences between countries that will confound comparison, the reporting of condom use, infidelity and HIV infection will also happen in completely different ways in each country.

  91. fishy said,

    September 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I’m an ex-Catholic and a scientist. God only knows why it should fall to me to defend the RCC but here goes:

    Firstly, I agree without reservation that condoms are part of the solution, and I too wish the Pope and any other public figure who has contributed to the climate of condom scepticism or AIDS/HIV denial would shut up. But I have a number of worries about Ben’s post.

    I think you are seriously overestimating the amount of influence the Pope as an individual has on condom use in Africa. Others here have already pointed out that RCs make up a pretty small percentage of Africans. I also think it’s hard for anyone who isn’t Catholic to understand that the average Catholic just doesn’t think about the Pope or his pronouncements much. Being Catholic, for the average layperson, is much more about being a part of your local church. It’s not like the Pope is the head of SMERSH and all Catholics are his mindless automatons, for God’s sake.

    Now you could argue that the Pope, through African bishops, influences what is being taught in local pulpits. Again, I don’t really buy this, as it’s perfectly clear that the African RC dioceses would oppose condom use whether or not the Vatican intervened or not.

    I’m also sceptical about implied claims about the Pope’s influence in Africa specifically. I’m not sure why people think the Pope would have any more influence over African Catholics than he does over European Catholics, many of whom are perfectly happy to disregard church teaching on plenty of issues.

    Finally, Ben, I think you should be aware that your post is being read in the context of heightened media anti-Catholic rhetoric, in a country which is historically bigoted against Catholics and Irish Catholics in particular. Someone on here has already used a well-known sectarian slogan. I’m not saying that the RCC’s position on condoms shouldn’t be discussed, but you can do it without buying into anti-Catholic rhetoric like “international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape.”

  92. Twin-Skies said,

    September 15, 2010 at 3:40 am

    For those wondering about the AIDs situation in the Philippines:

    newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20100223-254899/DoH-chief-to-keep-on-distributing-condoms–to-stop-HIV-AIDS

  93. memeweaver said,

    September 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

    “There are bishops who have said some pretty awful things, but let’s not pretend that it is the official position of the church, or that it somehow justifies these indiscriminate attacks on the Catholic Church.”

    For a micro-manager like Ratzinger to not speak out against his own bishops’ lies speaks volumes. But the Catholic Church works this way – let the lower downs do the dirty work of misinformation and keep the top pure.

    “I think you should be aware that your post is being read in the context of heightened media anti-Catholic rhetoric, in a country which is historically bigoted against Catholics and Irish Catholics in particular”

    Are you assuming that the only blog readers are in the UK? Do you think Catholic Ireland’s press is giving him an easier time? Or any of the other countries waking up to the excesses of the Church’s abuse of authority?

  94. oldandrew said,

    September 15, 2010 at 8:26 am

    “For a micro-manager like Ratzinger to not speak out against his own bishops’ lies speaks volumes. But the Catholic Church works this way – let the lower downs do the dirty work of misinformation and keep the top pure.”

    Who said this wasn’t sectarian?

    This is one of the standard sectarian attacks on the Catholic Church. That the papacy is a dictatorship that controls every action of Catholic churches and, therefore, whatever the Catholic Church officially claims to believe should be ignored as manipulative and outsiders can identify the “true” beliefs of the church by analysing the misdeeds of individual clergy. This is a line of attack that goes back centuries and variations on it have been used to persecute Catholics since the Reformation.

    The rather obvious fact that there is no organisation on earth that publishes its teachings as willingly and comprehensively as the Catholic Church. Anyone that makes out the Church encourages beliefs it doesn’t admit to is not just in full sectarian mode, but a paid up conspiracy theorist too.

  95. kim said,

    September 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    The saddest aspect of all this, which has only been touched on, is that of the innocent victims. In countries where married men are often promiscuous, but their wives are monogamous, the refusal to use a condom can result in infection and death for the wife – and sometimes for her child, because mothers can pass on HIV to their children.

    Some people here have said that hardly anyone takes any notice of what the Pope says anyway (in which case, you have to wonder why he bothers). But a married, monogamous woman who obeys the Church’s teaching on contraception may be putting her own life at risk.

  96. kim said,

    September 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Also, has anyone else noticed that in discussions about the Pope’s visit to the UK, we’re often told that he is head of a church of one billion people worldwide, who all regard him as their spiritual leader, and yet when it comes to his pronouncements on condoms, it turns out he has hardly any influence on Catholics at all?

  97. skyesteve said,

    September 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Far be it from me to defend Ben but to say that his post is anti-Catholic is patent nonsense and to say that it is does its claimers no favours at all. Most of Ben’s citicism is of specified indviduals and is based on direct quotes. The one condemnation of the Church as a body is in his final paragraph where he critices it for condemning something that works and I’ve yet to see anyine here posting solid evidence that his statement is wrong.
    Sure the Catholic Church has done rotten things over the years (indeed, centuries) – the Inquisition, the persecution of Templars or Hugenots, the support of 1930s fascisti, the failure to condemn and ex-communicate terrorists, or whatever. But that doesn’t matter here. All religions have perpetrated such monstrosities – even the Shinto-Buddhists of Japan managed their own share of horrors. And, as other have said, secular regimes have done little better – Stalin was no cuddly bunny.
    But this is Bad Science NOT Bad Religion or Bad History so please take your relgious/historical gripes elsewhere and concentrate on the matter in hand.
    Do condoms prevent the spread of potentially devastating and lethal sexually transmitted infections? The overwhelming evidence suggests that they do. Therefore, is it legitimate to have a go at a prominent world leader who overtly campaigns against their use? I think it is! But, hey, feel free to disagree and show me the scientific evidence to back you up. That’s what this site is all about after all.

  98. elvisionary said,

    September 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    @fishy

    Actually agree with much of your post – I’m sure the Pope has less influence over people’s behaviour than he would like. But that doesn’t justify complacency if you think that his influence would be damaging if people actually listened to him.

    As for the point about anti-catholic rhetoric, no-one’s yet attempted to answer my question above (#86). I’m not sure that an accurate statement of fact can be described as “anti-catholic rhetoric”. I have no axe to grind with the catholic church per se, and there are many millions of wonderful, highly moral catholics in the world – I just judge it as an institution on its actions, and the actions of its leaders. And they have been guilty of something truly appalling. I don’t think the pope is someone that anyone should be looking to for moral authority.

  99. fishy said,

    September 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    @memeweaver

    Of course I don’t assume that the only blog readers are in the UK. *I’m* not in the UK at the moment (although I am British). But the visit is taking place in the UK, and Ben Goldacre is British, so the context of the post is British. And in a British context, one has to watch the rhetoric when attacking Catholicism or risk using language that sounds like something Ian Paisley would say.

    @kim

    “In countries where married men are often promiscuous, but their wives are monogamous, the refusal to use a condom can result in infection and death for the wife – and sometimes for her child, because mothers can pass on HIV to their children.”

    As I’ve already said, I think that in this kind of situation, women should use condoms if possible. But lack of condom use frequently takes place in situations of sexual violence or in contexts where women don’t have the power to get their husband or partner to wear a condom (which I think is the more likely scenario for a married couple). I just don’t understand why we’re sitting around blaming the pope for spreading HIV while ignoring a background of widespread sexual violence and a very large number of (often non-Catholic) men who are apparently too selfish to protect their partners.

  100. memeweaver said,

    September 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    @oldandrew .”Anyone that makes out the Church encourages beliefs it doesn’t admit to is not just in full sectarian mode, but a paid up conspiracy theorist too.”

    So all of those comments & proclamations from bishops are beliefs of the Church? What are you actually trying to say? You seem to be getting yourself in knots.

  101. James Wilson said,

    September 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    The Catholics (lapsed or otherwise) seem to have got a bit bogged down in the idea that this is some sort of anti-Catholic issue. It’s not. When I say “Fuck the pope” it’s a comment on the pope and not Catholics in general. I’m more than happy to say “Fuck the [insert religious leader of your choice]”. How does “Fuck Ian Paisley” grab you? IPs both junior and senior obviously. Assuage your sensibilities?

    If I were a member of an organisation and the leaders of the organisation were committed to a policy which, on any sensible view of the evidence, leads to suffering and death for zero gain (I am taking it as read that it’s a fairy story that those who use condoms have to do one or more of purgatory, limbo and hell), then I’d be thinking: this is just fucking crazy shit, either I need a a different leader or I’m joining a different organisation.

    Have some self-respect for Christ’s sake. Leave the bastard – he’s not going to change.

    I know the Vatican opted out of the first reformation, but my suggestion is it needs to catch up. It could even do the full monty and get with the enlightenment. So far as I can see, the alternative is liquidation. The church may solider on round my way (West Yorkshire) by seeking to control access to its schools, but the divorce between the values of the Church and the values of its laity will prove economically fatal.

    Most obviously, the vatican has absolute rules to determine what consenting lay adults (us) may or may not do consensually in private, but is incapable of protecting our children from its representatives in the form of clerical physical and sexual abuse. And all the while claiming to be God’s representatives on earth.

    No doubt Catholics do a fantastic amount of work for charity. And the social and cultural aspects are quite good too. All this can continue if you ditch the pope and his crackpot theories. With all the time you’d save rationalising or apologising for his medieval nonsense, Catholicism would be even better. Keep the desire to rescue humanity, but only from real threats. And not imaginary threats made up by, frankly, weird old men who (discounting the child abuse) have spent a lifetime alienating themselves from human intimacy.

  102. cumbrian said,

    September 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    The catholic church doesn’t like condoms.
    Men don’t like condoms.
    Which is the geater problem?

    A married, monogamous, devout woman opposed to contraception is not putting her life at risk. Her powerful promiscuous husband is doing that.

    I discover that my husband has been availing himself of the services of prostitutes – I apply a size 6 boot to his arse and chuck him out. I have the social freedom and economic independence to do that. I will not be shunned by my family or my tribe. I will not be destitute. African women have no such priviledges and are dying in their millions. Much good THEIR monogamy or faith may do them.

    Also, a pope would be pretty much useless if he didn’t base his teaching on dogma. That’s what he’s there for. The catholic church view is that sex is for procreation. All else stems from this – opposition to all effective contraception, homophobia, and women the world over opressed by constant pregnancy and too many children. It isn’t any use saying that the catholic church stand on condoms is illogical or unhelpful. It is inevitable given that they prevent pregnancy. ‘Every sperm is sacred’ folks.

    If we go into battle it shouldn’t be over catholic teaching but institutionalised poverty, misogyny, and opression which is woven into the fabric of African society and is independant of religion.

  103. sideshow_nick said,

    September 15, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    @Fishy

    ‘ “In countries where married men are often promiscuous, but their wives are monogamous, the refusal to use a condom can result in infection and death for the wife – and sometimes for her child, because mothers can pass on HIV to their children.”

    As I’ve already said, I think that in this kind of situation, women should use condoms if possible. ‘

    But the Pope doesn’t and that’s the point of Ben’s article.

  104. Foxbox said,

    September 16, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Regarding the Pope and the exact relevance of his proclamations about condoms to ordinary Catholics – the problem as I see it is that it seems that AIDS prevention and mitigation programmes in countries with high rates of HIV infection are dependent upon RCC money, and that treatment and advice paid for by that money will conform to Church doctrine. As has been pointed out already, not all countries with high incidences of HIV infection are particularly Catholic, but given the degree of investment that the RCC puts into the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Caritas Internationalis claims that 25% of the aid delivered to people living with HIV in Africa is delivered by the Church and Caritas itself, and that it delivers aid to all regardless of religion) it is inevitable that the kind of information and aid even non-Catholics have access to will in some circumstances be restricted by Catholic teachings on contraception, which hardly seems just.
    I’m working my way through a series of articles on the AVERT website, which seem to me to be a decent starting place for investigating the history of the epidemic and strategies that have been used to tackle it on a case-by-case basis. There’s also a nice TED talk by Elisabeth Pisani from Feb this year which I found enlightening.
    However, being a lowly arts student and fairly new to this area of interest, if I’ve got anything factually wrong or I’ve engaged with a source of shockingly ill repute, let me know.

  105. Guy said,

    September 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Fishy,
    you state “but you can do it without buying into anti-Catholic rhetoric like “international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape.”

    Which bit of this do you disagree with? It was clearly international as the church has paid up in several countries. Child rape is clearly a criminal offence to the rest of us, although not in canon law – you only get a penance. It was a conspiracy as letters released in the law suits in USA have showed when priests were rapidly redeployed to new countries to escape prosecution. The payoffs under promise of not speaking to press and the concerted attempts to hush up witnesses under threat of ex-communication were a cover up.

    So which bits of this are wrong and therefore anti-catholic rhetoric?

  106. oldandrew said,

    September 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

    “When I say “Fuck the pope” it’s a comment on the pope and not Catholics in general.”

    It’s a Loyalist slogan, often painted on walls in Belfast by people who despised all Catholics as an ethnic group and were at a state of civil war with them. Whatever you say you mean by the using the language of sectarianism, nobody can ignore that it is the language of sectarianism, and your excuses can be taken no more seriously than people who say “I’m not a racist, but…” before using the language of the BNP.

  107. oldandrew said,

    September 16, 2010 at 8:22 am

    “So all of those comments & proclamations from bishops are beliefs of the Church?”

    No. Not everything said by a bishop is held as a belief by the church, particularly if it is contradicted by what other people in the church thinks. The age old art of condemning the Pope for everything any Catholic leader ever does wrong is a poor excuse for supporting sectarian hatred.

  108. memeweaver said,

    September 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    “The age old art of condemning the Pope for everything any Catholic leader ever does wrong is a poor excuse for supporting sectarian hatred.”

    Saying I’m supporting sectarian hatred is a big accusation and just a poor way of reframing all criticism as some attitudinal problem. Accusing members of the Catholic bishopric of lying and the Pope of not cleaning his own house before he chases others is valid criticism. I deal out the same criticisms for all authorities, whatever religion or secular persuasion.

  109. johnkooz said,

    September 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    ” “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.” Bloody hell. It’s always disheartening when someone who has legal-rationale (title) or traditional authority says things destructively misleading. This is why that type of authority shouldn’t exist: it gets misused to the demise of suffering people.

  110. oldandrew said,

    September 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    “Saying I’m supporting sectarian hatred is a big accusation and just a poor way of reframing all criticism as some attitudinal problem.”

    The problem was that you weren’t criticising the Pope for anything he had actually done, but for his part in a secret conspiracy to spread misinformation about condoms.

  111. sideshow_nick said,

    September 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    @OldAndrew

    “The problem was that you weren’t criticising the Pope for anything he had actually done, but for his part in a secret conspiracy to spread misinformation about condoms.”

    The Pope has made public statements against the use of condoms. Senior members of the Catholic church have celebrated these statements.

    This is not a secret conspiracy but a public campaign against condom use by the Pope and the Catholic church.

  112. flyingvic said,

    September 16, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    If we were to hand out condoms to a class of 13-yr-olds, (like we used to hand out bottles of milk) what would the message be? Not only that the children are physically capable of having sex, not only that we rather suspect that the children will be having sex, but that having sex is an activity that has no moral, ethical, spiritual or life-choice connotations to it whatsoever. In fact, that we expect the children to be having sex frequently and indiscriminately. The suggestion is implicit in the gift.

    Anecdotally, in societies (like our own within living memory) where pregnancy outside marriage carried a distinct social stigma, and where contraceptives were not so easily obtained, sexual activity among the young/unmarried was very much less than it is now. If that is true, it is a strong indication that voluntary abstinence is a powerful option – and one that is fatally undermined by the suggestiveness of a condom that sexual actions carry no burden of responsibility for what may occur because “there is nothing to worry about.”

    Archbishop Temple of Canterbury made that very point when he spoke against the free issue of condoms to servicemen in wartime. If they are given, there is an apparent expectation that they will be used: sexual permission has been given. If they are not easily available, there is a legitimate expectation that an individual should make a sensible life-style decision. In a society like ours today, where so much time and thought is given to issues of personal health, diet, fitness and appearance; where people agonise over smoking and drugs (including alcohol); where we worry, for goodness’ sake, about the effect that mere words can have on a vulnerable individual or minority; where we can see the damage done to society in and through its children by those who came to believe that liberation meant the abandonment of traditional sexual morality; is it too much to ask that we take some responsibility ourselves for our sexual behaviour rather than let it be decided for us by the presence or absence of a thin film of latex?

  113. gravematter said,

    September 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

    There seem to be an awful lot of people criticising Ben for his stance on the Catholic church’s approach to condoms, and these people seem mostly to be saying “the catholic church preaches abstinance, which is more successful in preventing AIDS than condoms, therefore they are right, and people like Ben are wrong”. Of course abstinance is more successful in preventing AIDS than condoms. However, this is disingenuous to say the least! Push abstinance over condoms by all means, but don’t expect everyone to listen. It only takes an abstainer one slip to contract AIDS. Condoms are another line of defence against this scourge, and it is surely wrong to warn against them. Warn against non-reproductive sex by all means, but have the intelligence to realise that temptation is occasionally too strong, even for good catholics! And if non-reproductive sex is going to happen, it is oddly mendacious to suggest that the use of a condom would not significantly reduce the risk of passing on diseases such as AIDS.

  114. gravematter said,

    September 17, 2010 at 6:36 am

    flyingvic,
    I appreciate your moral stance. However, the easy availability of condoms, while possibly responsible for societal “sexual permission”, also massively helps the prevention of life-threatening diseases such as AIDS. It is a case of balancing the moral ills of a sexually permissive society against widespread misery and disease. It might be a lovely utopian ideal for people to pair up for life and never have sex outside marriage, but there is a point at which you have to face up to the reality of the world. Pushing abstinance over condoms is one thing, but actively speaking out against condoms is quite another.

  115. oldandrew said,

    September 17, 2010 at 6:55 am

    “The Pope has made public statements against the use of condoms.”

    I was dealing with the specific claim that the Pope conspired to get his subordinates to spread false teachings which he wouldn’t officially or publically support.

    As I said, this is a classic sectarian line of attack on the Catholic church. Criticising this attack is not to rule out all criticism of the church as sectarian, simply to object to an obvious type of smear that has a sectarian history.

  116. Guy said,

    September 17, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Flying Vic, I had to read your entry twice as at first I assumed it was a spoof. Clearly you are serious. I would imagine that you don’t work with young people? Here on planet earth in the 21st century many of us see things differently.

    The argument about condoms/aids isn’t about teenagers in the UK anyway but about largely adults in lets say an African country. They don’t need your “sexual permission has been given”. They are adults. They make their own choices. They need access to trustworthy information about infection rates.

    The lies of the Catholic Church haven’t helped them make grown up choices and have contributed to superstition and ignorance. I agree that it would be great if men took more responsibility for their behaviour but here in the real world we are dealing with real people who cause less damage if they don’t fear eternal damnation for putting a piece of latex on their penis!

  117. skyesteve said,

    September 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

    @flyingvic – as I said before this is Bad Science and the whole point of the site is that it tackles people/ideas that fly in the face of rational, objective, scientific evidence.
    Condoms reduce the risk of acquiring devastating and lethal infections so advocating explicitly against their use is reckless at best. Or do you think that the scientific evidence suggest otherwise? If so, produce the evidence – that’s the whole point of this site.
    Sex among teenagers or before marriage is nothing new and I for one have no desire to see a return to back-street abortionists armed with coat hangers or the common situation in my part of the world where the out-of-wedlock baby of a 16 year old became their new “baby brother” or “baby sister” and was brought up by granny.
    Of course we should take responsibility for our actions but, at the same time, that is not an excuse for dismissing something of proven benefit simply because it doesn’t fit some subjective moral code.
    There are all sorts of reasons why people have sex (even if you exclude the fundamental evolutionary drive in which multiple sexual liaisons maximises the chance of continuing strong genetic lines). It’s very naive just to say people should know better.
    I simply don’t buy the line that advocating protection in the form of condoms will encourage people to have more sex. Again – show me the evidence if you believe that assertion to be true and I will happily change my mind if it’s there.
    But, as things stand, to me it seems about as logical as arguing we shouldn’t have the police because, by the same logic, if we have protection in the form of police people are more likely to commit crimes. The reality, of course, is that people commit crimes anyway whether you or I want them to or not so isn’t it better to have some kind of protection to minimise the impact of this behaviour?

  118. sideshow_nick said,

    September 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

    @OldAndrew

    “I was dealing with the specific claim that the Pope conspired to get his subordinates to spread false teachings which he wouldn’t officially or publically support.”

    Could please point me in the direction of these specific claims? I can only find here criticism of the bad science regarding condoms in public statements made by a world leader and his underlings (in this case the Pope and the Catholic church but could just have easily been any major public figure). I can’t find any accusation of conspiracy to which you refer.

  119. flyingvic said,

    September 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    @guy – I spend quite a lot of my time working with young people, offering them the example of a monogamous lifestyle and telling them of its benefits, as I see them, when they ask questions. As far as I am aware everyone here inhabits the same planet in the same century – it’s just that some offer thoughts to the debate and some offer sarcasm.

    @skyesteve – Bad Science surely begins with the attitude that ‘what science says’ is the complete answer to every question. So far as we are aware the vast majority of the animal kingdom does not have the capacity to make decisions based on moral judgement. Human beings do – and therefore, we might say, they should. The sex act for human beings carries so much more significance for the people involved than just what happens in the moments of coupling – otherwise, why do people get so worked up about relationships, fidelity and betrayal, for example?

    I doubt whether any statistical evidence exists concerning any connection between the availability of condoms and the frequency with which people have sex; but apparently to take away the need for consideration of the consequences of our actions is not, I would have thought, a particularly sensible approach in any circumstances, and certainly not in the area of human sexual relations.

    And the Pope’s line on condoms? Whether one agrees with him or not, the church surely, if it is to preach at all, has to preach ideals. ‘Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ The woman ‘taken in adultery’ was told to ‘go and sin no more’. No-one promised that Christianity would be easy.

  120. oldandrew said,

    September 17, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    “Could please point me in the direction of these specific claims?”

    I’m sorry?

    Are you telling me you started arguing with me about this without reading back to see what I was talking about? Don’t you normally find out what you are defending before you start defending it?

    (If you really must know, it was memeweaver’s comments in post 93.)

  121. sideshow_nick said,

    September 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    “Are you telling me you started arguing with me about this without reading back to see what I was talking about? Don’t you normally find out what you are defending before you start defending it?

    (If you really must know, it was memeweaver’s comments in post 93.)”

    Read that, still don’t get your point about secret conspiracies.

  122. skyesteve said,

    September 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    @flyingvic – I do respect your view and understand where you are coming from – I just don’t agree, that’s all.
    As I said before this site is about Bad Science – not Bad History or Bad Religion or Bad Morality (though clearly all may have a place in the discussion of science issues).
    I never said (and I don’t believe) that science has all the answers but it has more than enough answers to satisfy me.
    Morality is, by nature, a very subjective thing. For example, if someone campaigns against the use of condoms when I believe their use could save lives then I might regard their view as immoral (just as they might regard mine as immoral). And this is why evidence is important.
    If it was all simply about morality most of the drugs we currently prescribe wouldn’t be prescribed because there’s a lot to suggest that many of the big pharmaceutical companies are less than “moral” in the practices.
    I also think there is good evidence that young people are inconsequential by nature and, on that basis alone, I would be inclined to recommend to all of them that they consider using condoms even if they already practice some other form of contraception. It’s not just about not getting pregnant afterall. Condoms help to protect against lots of nasty viruses. Can anyone seriously dispute that scientific view? If so, what’s the evidence?
    As I said before, in an ideal world everyone’s first sexual partner woudl be there only sexual partner but I doubt that ever has been or ever will be the case. So in the meantime why not protect people a bit more effectively? What is immoral about wanting to do that?

  123. DavidRH said,

    September 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I know that this discussion thread is about AIDS and the Catholic faith but let me digress onto the bigger issue……

    The number of humans on this rock floating in space is expected to increase from six billion to over nine billion over the next forty years. And the largest population growth is expected in Africa, where the population is expected to double in this period. I suspect the death rate from Aids will soon be swamped by deaths due to famine and water shortage.

    If you will pardon the pun….. thank “God” for contraception! If we can convince the Africans to use condoms (the cheapest and most readily avalable contraceptive) then perhaps this nightmare scenario won’t happen.

    Anyone placing bets?

    Its a shame they didn’t predict this one in the scriptures. Perhaps God would have been keener on family planning if he knew what good little breederrs we would turn out to be!

  124. skyesteve said,

    September 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    From the horse’s mouth:

    “UNAids says there are now 5.2 million people worldwide receiving treatment for HIV/Aids, which has helped to ensure that 200,000 fewer people died from the virus in 2008 than in 2004.

    The agency said young people “are leading the prevention revolution by choosing to have sex later, having fewer multiple partners and using condoms, resulting in significantly fewer new HIV infections in many countries highly affected by Aids”.

    The use of male condoms has also doubled in the past five years”

    www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11347172

  125. cumbrian said,

    September 17, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    There is a certain irony in anyone getting agitated about a religious leader spreading misinformation. Pretty much a tautology

  126. gamle_javle said,

    September 18, 2010 at 1:40 am

    The problem with absolutism on any issue is that the parties ignore the essetial truths that are the consequence of their positions.
    Yes, the RCC dogma does prevent HIV transmission. Any level of abstinence greater than zero reduces rates of transmission.
    Any level of condom use greater than zero reduces rates of transmission.
    Absolute prevention, and zero transmission rates unfortunately require the extiction of the affected population due to non-reproduction. Oops!

    Maybe a program of universal HIV testing, and a quarantine to concentration camps would offer an alternative Ratzinger could get behind. He has experience.

  127. memeweaver said,

    September 18, 2010 at 8:09 am

    @oldandrew: “The problem was that you weren’t criticising the Pope for anything he had actually done, but for his part in a secret conspiracy to spread misinformation about condoms.”

    Now you’re just making things up.

  128. oldandrew said,

    September 18, 2010 at 8:32 am

    @memeweaver

    Oh for pity’ sake.

    You said: “…the Catholic Church works this way – let the lower downs do the dirty work of misinformation and keep the top pure.”

  129. memeweaver said,

    September 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    @oldandrew: And what’s secret about the Pope and his clergy acting in this manner. That’s a publicly documented pattern of behaviour which requires no “secret conspiracy”. It goes on in large public companies too (which I’ve seen from the inside) yet there is no dialogue between CEO and VPs or managers to make it happen. Of course, most companies aren’t trying to market a particular morality which this behaviour would contradict.

  130. jwm said,

    September 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Flyingvic

    I’m intrigued by your use of the phrase ‘traditional sexual morality’.

    Greek sexual morality significantly predated Christian moralities, and had no issues with condoms, with pig or sheepskin being used. There was also no major issue with homosexuality in their ‘traditional sexual moralities’.

    The phrase you should have used is ‘white middle class europen sexual morals set out 2000 years ago, ignoring prior morals and any significant moral developments since’

    but your quite right with everything else, look where condoms and other contraceptives have led us – a society where women lead men astray in temptation, even now invading our previously sacrosanct offices and work places and insisting on the vote too. And let’s not even begin to think of a woman not being punished with the shame of unwed pregnancy for making one mistake once in their young lives. Makes me vomit in my mouth a little just thinking about it. Bring back locking them in the family tent during their periods and not letting unwed females interact with unwed men I say.

  131. flyingvic said,

    September 18, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    @jwm – I’m sorry that you so deliberately mistake my meaning. If you read the phrase ‘traditional sexual morality’ in the context in which I used it, namely, that it was abandoned by those whose troubled children we see in today’s society, it is, I suggest, tolerably clear that I referred to the tradition of the generations just prior to our own.

    I’m sorry also that your sarcasm is so misplaced. In the society and class in which I grew up it was considered as shameful for a boy to admit to his parents that he had ‘got a girl into trouble’ as it was for a girl to admit she was pregnant outside marriage. I see no sense of sexual discrimination there. The presenting rationale may well have been to do with bourgeois respectability, but the result was certainly a greater measure of respect for oneself as well as for the opposite sex.

  132. pv said,

    September 18, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I’m sorry that you so deliberately mistake my meaning. If you read the phrase ‘traditional sexual morality’ in the context in which I used it, namely, that it was abandoned by those whose troubled children we see in today’s society, it is, I suggest, tolerably clear that I referred to the tradition of the generations just prior to our own.

    I’m sorry also that your sarcasm is so misplaced. In the society and class in which I grew up it was considered as shameful for a boy to admit to his parents that he had ‘got a girl into trouble’ as it was for a girl to admit she was pregnant outside marriage. I see no sense of sexual discrimination there. The presenting rationale may well have been to do with bourgeois respectability, but the result was certainly a greater measure of respect for oneself as well as for the opposite sex.

    I’m of a couple of generations before the current, depending on how you define and calculate it. Where can I get a pair of rose tinted spectacles?

  133. Guy said,

    September 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

    FlyingVic,
    every generation bemoans the decline in the present generation. There is that lovely quote from Plato about the decline in respect of youth. There used to be a lot of terrible sex before marriage in all generations. This led to semi-forced marriages that were unhappy, backstreet abortion and hence high female death rates, and locking up women in mental institutions for life for promiscuity. Oh bring back the good old days. Not sure if those spectacles are rose tinted or totally blacked out!

  134. oldandrew said,

    September 19, 2010 at 9:38 am

    “And what’s secret about the Pope and his clergy acting in this manner.”

    Because if everyone knows about it, then it wouldn’t work, would it?

  135. jwm said,

    September 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Flyingvic

    your arguement seems to hinge on the equal treatment of men and women 50 years ago, a period prior to the major feminist movements and a time of rife misogeny. I don’t think that even now we can claim equal treatment of men and women, wether we’re talking sexually or otherwise.

    Your memory may say otherwise but it just isn’t backed up. It’s why anecdote is such a poor basis of evidence as it is often poorly representative of the wider picture.

  136. flyingvic said,

    September 20, 2010 at 2:03 am

    @jwm – You seem to be spending your time telling me (wrongly) what I ought to have said and knocking down arguments that I haven’t been using. Then you move on to telling me off for using anecdotal material because it is such a poor basis for evidence without producing any evidence yourself to contradict what I have said. Way to go, as they say in the States.

    @guy – I’d be very interested to see your evidence for terrible sex, semi-forced marriages and back-street abortions ‘in all generations’ – as also your evidence that these evils have been removed by the availability of condoms.

    Bad Science certainly seems to provide a home for Bad Arguments!

  137. Squander Two said,

    September 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I’m an atheist, and I find the Catholic Church to be a quite reprehensible organisation in many ways, but the “The Pope causes AIDS” charge is ridiculous.

    The Pope says that we should never have premarital sex. I had premarital sex. Any consequences of that were not the Pope’s fault.

    We seem to have no trouble accepting that rather obvious logic when it comes to the actions of white Europeans and Americans. But, for some reason I can’t quite get my head around, all-too-many people prefer not to apply it to black Africans. For them, any bad consequences of their actions are the fault of the people who specifically told them never to do exactly what they’ve done. Speaking as someone who believes that African adults are grown-ups capable of making decisions, I can’t subscribe to that argument.

    I do get the whole spreading-misinformation thing, but really, who cares what Catholic clergy say about condoms? This is like a bunch of rabbis saying that bacon is poisonous. By definition, the only people whose behaviour would be affected by that information are people who ignore rabbis.

  138. rejoice said,

    September 20, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    i think you’ve covered how rubbish human beings are at judging risk before ben. “condoms reduce the risk of infection” seems to be a mighty big statement to make to creatures who aren’t very good at assessing risk. or have i got the wrong blog? “You do everything all at once, urgently” unless you believe that encouraging promiscuous behaviour by encouraging condom use is immoral and will lead that person to hell. but then, there probably isn’t enough scientific evidence for you to consider that possibility is there, ben? From your study of studies, does an “80% reduction” mean that 80/100 partners will never get AIDS or just that they will get it later? Bearing in mind that no condom is 100% reliable, it even says so in the literature. You can have great safe sex 80% of the time, the other 20% you are at risk of cervical cancer, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and more :-(

  139. Pittens said,

    September 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    The comments are more sensible than I expected, indicating that the level of anti-Catholic hysteria occasioned by the first State visit of a Pope to the UK’s shores has abated somewhat.

    Has England’s smartest man made a retraction? Or is he claiming Catholicism still the cause of Aids in British colonised Africa? Catholicism is about as prevalent in the top 5 Aids-ravaged African countries as protestantism is in Ireland, or South America – that is 30%. The GDP is 1200% higher than Zimbabwe. If you cross from British colonised Botswana to Portuguese colonised Angola, the rate of Aids drops from 30% to 2-5%. See 3.bp.blogspot.com/_LL9UYtcNPUA/STKb2B3Gu7I/AAAAAAAAAnY/qYmUaBkNPBE/s1600-h/AIDSRatesinAfrica.png

    There is little obvious cause either, if Catholics in Africa are obeying Catholic rules then they are not engaging in pre-marital sex, to suggest that Catholic Africans miss that bit but are caught in a moment of pious religiosity just before coitus is absurd.

    So no cause, and no correlation. Nor any correlation between Aids rates and catholicism in the rest of the world either.

    An intelligent alien might suggest that the evidence that Catholicism causes Aids is as strong as the evidence for homeopathic cures.

  140. Pittens said,

    September 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    that is 30% – should be < 10%.

  141. Pittens said,

    September 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Lol

    All Goldacres lists have trace Catholics

    “He was addressing bishops from: South Africa, where somebody dies of Aids every 2 minutes; Botswana, where 23.9% of adults between 15 and 49 are HIV positive; Swaziland, where 26.1% of adults have HIV; Namibia (a trifling 15%); and Lesotho, 23%.”

    South Africa – ex-British Colony. Catholicism 7%.
    Botswana – ex-British Colony. Catholicism < 10%.
    Swaziland – ex- British Colony. Catholicism – 20%
    Naimbia – ex-British and German colony. Cahtolicism is trace.

    This would as if Spanish "liberals" , faced with an epidemic of AIDS in South America, ranted about the cause being Anglicanism.

    This is Anglo Saxon empiricism at it's best.

  142. elvisionary said,

    September 23, 2010 at 9:35 am

    @Pittens

    Where has anyone suggested that Catholicism causes AIDS? Ben’s words above were “My special interest is his role in the 2 million people who die of Aids each year”.

    The point is simple: 2 million people die of AIDS each year, the more widespread use of condoms would limit the spread of AIDS, and yet the catholic church campaigns against them. Your argument appears to consist of the assertion that such a campaign cannot be effective because there aren’t many catholics in countries with high rates of AIDS, and if people listened to the pope they wouldn’t need a condom in the first place.

    On the first point, I fervently hope that you are right that the Pope’s malign influence is limited, but that doesn’t make his position helpful or morally defensible. The second point is logical but so hopelessly divorced from reality that it is more callous and smug than principled.

  143. jonnybeb said,

    September 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    thanks to elvisionary for totally summing up this argument and restoring common sense. i’m almost tempted to re-state his/her argument word for word.

  144. oldandrew said,

    September 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

    “thanks to elvisionary for totally summing up this argument and restoring common sense. i’m almost tempted to re-state his/her argument word for word.”

    Then you’d look as unable to follow a simple argument as he is.

    If the Pope’s position plays a role in the death of 2 million people then it would be expected that the statistics, particularly the statistics which Ben quotes, would show some sign of this rather than the exact opposite.

    Explaining that you think something is harmful, unsupported by evidence, is the exact opposite of what Ben usually recommends. The Pope is implicated in AIDS deaths in the exact same way as the MMR vaccine is implicated in autism. Some opinionated people think that it is the sort of thing that causes the other sort of thing.

    As it is, Ben seems less informed by evidence than, say, Edward C. Green here:

    www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/AR2009032702825.html

  145. jonnybeb said,

    September 25, 2010 at 10:10 am

    @oldandrew

    read elvisionary’s post again (#142).

    then read this:

    “The Pope is implicated in AIDS deaths in the exact same way as the MMR vaccine is implicated in autism.”

    then go and stand in the corner and think about what you’ve said.

  146. oldandrew said,

    September 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    You are quite right.

    It’s not the same. The MMR-vaccine-is-implicated-in-autism story had some anecdotal evidence. The Pope-is-implicated-in-AIDS-deaths story doesn’t even have that.

    All the story has is the irrational belief that if the Pope doesn’t approve of contraception then it must cause Catholics in the third world to have unprotected sex with infected people when otherwise they wouldn’t, and that this happens to such an extent that the increase in the number of HIV infections caused by greater amounts of unprotected sex, outweighs any reduction in transmission caused by it deterring sex.

    This seems highly unlikely, yet for some bizarre reason people seem keen to believe it with even less evidence than the MMR-autism people manufactured.

    (And that’s accepting that sexual morality should be determined by the level of AIDS risk in the first place. I don’t see many of the people who condemn the Pope over this applying that principle more generally.)

  147. jonnybeb said,

    September 25, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    @oldandrew

    “All the story has is the irrational belief that if the Pope doesn’t approve of contraception then it must cause Catholics in the third world to have unprotected sex with infected people when otherwise they wouldn’t, and that this happens to such an extent that the increase in the number of HIV infections caused by greater amounts of unprotected sex, outweighs any reduction in transmission caused by it deterring sex.”

    this is the misinterpretation of the story.

  148. jonnybeb said,

    September 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    in the article you refer to, edward c green says that the reason condoms aren’t as effective in africa as we might hope is because they are not used enough!

    whether the pope causes a net increase or net decrease in the number of HIV/AIDS cases by, on the one hand, saying “abstain from sex” and, on the other hand, saying “don’t use condoms”, is i think the point that you keep coming back to.

    it’s an interesting question.

    but the point ben makes (which you seem to be failing to understand) is that, whatever else the pope may say, discouraging the use of condoms is a public health risk.

  149. oldandrew said,

    September 27, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    My point was that there is no evidence that discouraging condom use *in this way* (i.e. a religion which prohibits polygamy, anal sex, homosexual acts prostitution, adultery, pre-marital sex also prohibiting contraception) is “a public health risk” or even that it is something that makes a marginal difference to public health.

    This is not simply the point that if you want to judge the rightness or wrongness of somebody’s actions you might want to consider the net effect (rather than trying to break them down into separate parts to be judged separately). That, along with the problems of the consequentialist moral philosophy used here, are two further hurdles to be climbed before this argument can be made.

  150. hen3ry said,

    September 28, 2010 at 1:18 am

    oldandrew@149:

    You state that there is “no evidence” that abstinence only education poses a public health risk.

    From Cochrane review on Abstinence-only programs for HIV infection prevention in high-income countries:
    Conclusions: “Evidence does not indicate that abstinence-only interventions effectively decrease or exacerbate HIV risk among participants in high-income countrie”

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17943855

    From Cochrane review on Abstinence-plus programs for HIV infection prevention in high-income countries:

    Conclusions: “Many abstinence-plus programs appear to reduce short-term and long-term HIV risk behavior among youth in high-income countries”

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18254124

    Let us consider the net effect here. Abstinence only educational programmes, such as the message delivered by the pope, have exactly the same effect on HIV risk as no education at all. On the other hand, abstinence and condoms reduces HIV risk behaviour. By opposing the use of, and education about, condoms the pope is discarding an effective strategy for an ineffective one. What more evidence do you need that opposing abstinence-plus education in favour of abstinence only education is not only a bad idea, but morally wrong?

  151. thammond65 said,

    September 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    But many of you seem to be missing two key points that oldandrew and others made. Firstly, Catholics are a minority in those countries with the worst infections. Seems a bit odd to blame the Pope for the high rates of infection there. Secondly, if Catholics obey the Pope, the issue of condoms is largely irrelevant. They don’t have sex before marriage or outside marriage and so on. So Ben’s hypothesis is that Catholics in Africa are quite happy to break the Church’s key teachings on sex, but are not willing to break the rather minor teaching on condoms. Perhaps you think the Pope should say, “When you do wrong, please wear a condom.” This just teenage silliness mixed with paternalism bordering on racism and propogated by the smugly self-righteous who thinks it’s somehow daring and clever to bash the Pope. And I’m an atheist!

  152. oldandrew said,

    September 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    “You state that there is “no evidence” that abstinence only education poses a public health risk.”

    No, I didn’t.

    And since when were we talking about high income countries?

  153. hen3ry said,

    September 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Yes you did, in post 149, where you said:

    There is no evidence that discouraging condom use *in this way* (i.e. a religion which prohibits polygamy, anal sex, homosexual acts prostitution, adultery, pre-marital sex also prohibiting contraception) is “a public health risk” or even that it is something that makes a marginal difference to public health.

    Now, the studies I have posted are comparing abstinence only and abstinence plus education in America, where the abstinence only programs are highly religiously motivated, and also prohibit “polygamy, anal sex, homosexual acts prostitution, adultery, pre-marital sex”

    I have shown you evidence that discouraging condom use has an impact on public health, in that populations are more healthy when condoms use is taught. If you read either of the studies, rather than just glancing at the titles you might find that the authors have answered your questions. Frankly, all I can say at this point is Fuck The Pope. (In the nicest, and most non-sectarian way, of course.)

  154. oldandrew said,

    October 2, 2010 at 8:20 am

    “Yes you did”

    Stop making stuff up.

    The moral teaching of the Catholic church is not a public health program. Evidence that government health programs which promote a particular religious line to people who don’t follow that religion are ineffective, is no evidence whatsoever as the the effect that the moral teaching of a religion has on the followers of that religion.

  155. Ely said,

    October 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I’m a Roman Catholic, educated in a Roman Catholic School.

    My religion classes were taught by a very devote nun who was a theologist.

    I say this because what follows next is actually quite interesting (if not shocking) for people. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE POPE SAYS, ONLY THE CHURCH’S HIERARCHIC BODY (priests and such). According to the Church, the only absolute truth a Christina must believe is the creed. Hence the Pope’s claim doesn’t have to be heeded (and hence why I deduce that Africans haven’t been informed of this).

    The reason the Pope opposes condom use is because, according to some teachings within the Church, this promotes extra-marital sex or sex before marriage and, in the case of married couples, undermines the objective of marriage which is to have (and raise) children.

    Well, I think the reason above to not use condom is rather stupid. As my mother says “when the Church gives me money to help me raise the 20 or so children I could’ve had, I’ll stop using birth control”.

    And there’s also the AIDS issue. How can we justify not using condoms with such primitive reasoning when millions of people die? It’s a global epidemic, and actively campaigning against it isn’t going to help mankind much. God, the Pope should just shut his mouth. Catholics don’t even need to listen to him, anyway.

  156. anentropic said,

    October 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    ‘My diocese is flooded with condoms and there is more AIDS because of them.’

    My god, they must be *used* condoms… that’s awful!

  157. hatter said,

    October 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I haven’t had time to read all the posts, so maybe someone has already pointed this out, but it is irrelevant whether the people in a particular country are Catholic. If there are missionaries there and they’re spreading this drivel about condoms then they are having a negative influence on one of the ways of reducing infection. Why would people be listening? Well I have never met someone who tells me they love condoms so much they never want to have sex without one. Would you pop one on every time if it had no contraceptive or disease-preventing benefits? These priests go to places like Africa and tell the locals condoms are worthless, so people don’t use them. It says a lot that they don’t feel confident enough to try discouraging condom use by simply saying it is purely religious, but instead find it necessary to lie about condoms. You Catholics who support the Pope’s stance, if you want to look credible let’s see you vocally condemning the lies, and telling people that condoms are protective, but that they shouldn’t use them because the Pope is against them for purely religious reasons.

  158. baratron said,

    November 22, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Apparently the Pope was listening to you?!

    Pope condones condom use in exceptional cases
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11804398

    Pope Benedict on the use of condoms: book excerpt
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11804798

    Pope’s condom comments welcomed by campaign groups
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11804943

    Wow.

  159. joey89924 said,

    November 16, 2012 at 2:40 am

    That’s a bit of an understatement.
    www.hqew.net