Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shakin', Rattlin', Rollin': American Catholic Centrists Parse Benedict on Condoms

Asked on Tuesday if condom use is warranted in Africa where many people on that continent are dying in an ongoing AIDS epidemic, Pope Benedict XVI stated that use of condoms will not stop the AIDS epidemic in Africa and may even make matters worse (here).

People of good will around the world find this position incomprehensible and even malevolent. As an editorial in today’s New York Times (here) states,

As reported on Tuesday by journalists who accompanied the pope on his flight to Africa, Benedict said that distribution of condoms would not resolve the AIDS problem but, on the contrary, would aggravate or increase it. The first half of his statement is clearly right. Condoms alone won’t stop the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Campaigns to reduce the number of sexual partners, safer-sex practices and other programs are needed to bring the disease to heel.

But the second half of his statement is grievously wrong. There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.

Grievously wrong: authoritative bona fide studies, too numerous to list, show that making condoms available and promoting their use slows down the spread of HIV. Grievously wrong: human lives are at stake in the AIDS epidemic, including the lives of children infected from birth by mothers carrying the virus. Grievously wrong: making condoms available and promoting their use saves human lives, including the lives of tiny, vulnerable human beings who must struggle with a lethal infection from the day they are born.

The pope is grievously wrong. His facts are grievously wrong. And because he has chosen to believe grievously wrong facts, his moral insights are grievously wrong—about this issue of human well-being in a continent struggling against many odds.

The New York Times has no problem seeing this: the pope is grievously wrong. And it has no problem saying it.

American Catholics of the center do have a problem with that analysis, however. Read their meandering ruminations on the papal statement about condoms, and you’ll see more shakin’, rattlin’, and rollin’ than you may have encountered since King Elvis took his act to the Lord’s throne. Parsing. Explaining. Justifying. Pretending.

It’s revolting. And yet it’s where we are, at the center; it’s where the knowledge class of the American Catholic church is, at the center of the church. In a defensive bubble in which the plain sense of a New York Times editorial represents an attack on “the” church and its unassailable positions.

For the centrist apologists for power and the status quo, the pope isn’t talking about condoms as a failure, per se (though aren’t there those studies showing that condoms may not really work to stop HIV transmission?): he’s talking about sexual immorality as a failure. He’s encouraging people to be abstinent. To marry and then have sex inside the bonds of holy wedlock. He’s recognizing that this is the only—the only ultimate—solution to the AIDS crisis.

Our truths are, that is to say, the truth: the only truth. The truth the world needs in order to reach salvation. And we manufacture those truths from the center, from our cloistered, protected, well-heeled places—ivory towers and Vatican palaces and cushy jobs at prestigious Catholic universities. Where we are not permitted to say that black is white if we have been told that our truth mandates calling white black.

And meanwhile people are dying. Babies are dying. And there is abundant, irrefutable evidence that condoms might prevent those babies from being infected with a lethal illness.

What would Jesus do?

It is hard not to believe that the centrist apologists who are shakin’, rattlin’, and rollin’ for power do not know that the discourse they are trying to explain away is rooted in a broader discourse of maleficent statements about condoms and contraception. In parsing the papal statement about condoms, the centrist apologists for power and the status quo are implicitly defending ideological positions of the far right that have done all they can to muddle the discussion about condoms and contraception—to mislead the public through scientific misinformation and outright lies.

As Michael Bayly notes today in a posting entitled “The Pope’s Message of Ignorance in Africa” at his wild reed blog, this is not the first time that important Catholic leaders have claimed condoms do not prevent spread of HIV (here). Benedict is not speaking in a vacuum here—the kind of vacuum that “explanations” on centrist American Catholic blogs are now presupposing, as they wonder if Benedict meant this or that by his statement—as they wonder if he did not really mean that condoms are ineffective in preventing transmission of AIDS.

Bayly notes links between the belief of important Catholic leaders that condoms do not prevent the spread of HIV, and disinformation disseminated by such powerful right-wing anti-family planning organizations as the American Life League and Human Life International. As he notes, these groups aggressively question the value of condoms in addressing the AIDS epidemic. They promote misinformation including the claim that the HIV virus passes through the latex of the condom. They claim that condoms have an excessively high “failure rate.”

If you doubt what Bayly is saying about these groups, I suggest you vist the website of the American Life League (here), enter “condoms” into the search engine at the top of its homepage, and then take a gander at the 152 hits you’ll find re: condoms and all they they do not do, in the view of ALL—including stop the spread of AIDS.

Then if you haven’t had enough “information” that you will never discover in any credible science book, click around the site further and let it “inform” you—e.g., about how birth control pills really cause abortion even when they are not abortifacient pills, and how the availability of contraception leads to a pro-abortion mentality.

Haven’t had enough? Want more “information”? Head on over to the website of the powerful Father Thomas Euteneur at Human Life International. Check out its condom database with its condom “facts” (here). Then, if you can stomach it, click on Rev. Euteneur’s “Spirit and Life” blog archives, and take a glimpse at his views on topics other than condom failure and microscopic holes in latex (here).

You might be surprised at what you find there, in the blog statements of this powerful Catholic priest in good standing—e.g., the claim that President Obama, a “confirmed champion of the culture of death,” is guilty of a mind-boggling series of ethical violations in his first two weeks in office (here). These include: being the first President-elect to be investigated by the FBI; hiring a lobbyist per day in his first two weeks in office; hiring an “extreme pornographer” in the Justice Department; hiring someone in the same department who “helped to kill Terri Schiavo”; and taking steps with his Secretary of State to “fund the international killers to the teeth for a new reign of terror on the unborn worldwide.”

Who knew? And isn’t it marvelous that the previous president demonstrated no lapses in ethics significant enough to elicit commentary of this sort from the good, orthodox, faithful Catholic priest, Father Euteneur?

Without the website of Father Thomas J. Euteneur, we would be sorely lacking in accurate information not only about condoms, but about the Machiavellian inner workings of the new presidency.

These are the kinds of people with whom our brothers and sisters of the American Catholic center put themselves in bed, when they parse Benedict’s statement about condoms and preventing AIDS in Africa. Guys and gals of the power seats, you can surely do better than this. When human lives are at stake, seeking and telling the truth is imperative. As the New York Times editorial concludes,

Even so, health authorities consider condoms a valuable component of any well-rounded program to prevent the spread of AIDS. It seems irresponsible to blame condoms for making the epidemic worse.

Irresponsible, indeed. Not to mention cruel. And unpastoral. And deeply unChristian.