Pope's comments in Africa


Madam, – For 30 years, theologians have been groaning about the divisive, myopic, and destructive stances of the former Cardinal Ratzinger. Now the whole world seems to be sharing their dismay.

Rev Prof Vincent Twomey (March 25th) says the Pope’s line on condom usage “evidently touches a raw nerve with many European politicians and opinion makers. Questioning the condom questions the generally approved style of life.”

Why ascribe low motives to those agencies and groups (including Catholic bishops and missionaries) who are urging people to be responsible toward themselves, their partners and their children? Why accuse health agencies of having a colonialist view of Africans as incapable of abstinence and fidelity? Humans everywhere have had trouble with these ideals, and to rely on their strict observance is hardly a good basis for public health policy anywhere. To hold up Uganda as a model is to miss the full scope of that country’s ABC policy: “Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms.” This successful policy is being undercut by those African bishops who have greeted the papal remark with enthusiasm.

People use condoms not from hedonism but out of a sense of responsibility. The phobia against condoms has led to monstrous positions such as that of Cardinal Caffarra, a former papal speechwriter, who holds that a woman whose husband is infected should neither protect herself nor refuse her marital duty, but simply trust in providence.

Those who deny that Catholic crusades against condoms have caused many deaths in Africa often seem to use a “broken kettle” argument: “No, the papal teaching actually saves lives, and no one is listening to it anyway!” The Pope is right to stress fidelity, abstinence and the humanisation of sex; but he should not make confusing and potentially lethal statements on the usefulness of condoms in fighting a terrible disease. – Yours, etc,


Sophia University,

Tokyo, Japan.