Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: Kenyan Catholic Bishops Oppose Polio Vaccination for Children

One minute, the Catholic bishops of Kenya are up in arms about the fact that the U.S. president dares to defend the human rights of a criminalized minority group in their country — the LGBT citizens of Kenya. As the right-wing Catholic media outlet Catholic News Agency (whose newsfeed directly links to the official website of the Kenyan Catholic conference) reported after Mr. Obama's remarks in Kenya, African bishops are depicting his statements defending gay rights as a form of "ideological colonization" of Africa by the West.

This has been for some time now a typical meme in many African countries, which depict movements calling for rights for women and sexual minorities as an "infection" being injected into the bloodstream of their nations by immoral Westerners. The U.S. religious right (as represented, for example, by the very CNA newsfeed to which the Kenyan Catholic bishops' website links) has done everything in its power to magnify such suspicions on the part of Africans.

And one of the results of this fanning of social hysteria, this depicting of "outsiders" and minority groups as infectious agents in Kenyan society: on the heels of their opposition to President Obama's defense of LGBT rights in Kenya, the Kenyan Catholic bishops are now opposing the vaccination of Kenyan children against polio, which is now endemic in at least one African country, Nigeria, and which began to break out again in Kenya in 2013.

As Fredrick Nzwili reports in this Religion News Service article, though the vaccination campaign is sponsored by the Kenyan government, the Kenyan bishops maintain that they should have a right to vet vaccines given to Kenyan citizens before a vaccination campaign occurs. When Kenya began vaccinating women against tetanus last year, the Catholic bishops of the country opposed that vaccination campaign with statements that it was a stealth attempt of the government and the World Health Organization, on which the Kenyan government relies for medical assistance, to peddle contraceptives to Kenyan women. 

Polio, of course, primarily affects very young children. Who, in this case, will end up bearing the brunt of attempts by ostensibly "pro-life" religious leaders to make people desperately in need of immunization against serious infectious diseases imagine that attempts to control and eradicate these diseases are part of a Western plot to spread moral "illness" among the people of their nation . . . . 

I wonder if, in his retirement, Pope Benedict ever gives any thought to the damage he has done by fanning the flames of these suspicions and using the hysterical rhetoric of infection in his comments about Africa's relationship to the West when he was pope. That this hysteria has issued in claims of bishops' conferences to the astonishing "right" to vet vaccination programs and medicines dispensed to protect populations against serious infectious diseases ought to give the emeritus pope cause to stop and think about what is unleashed when one employs this rhetoric of infection against demeaned minority groups.

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