If you ever thought the subject of condoms was passé, the Pope's recent trip to Africa should have disabused you. Condoms are still apparently a big deal. In case you missed the spectacular worldwide hubbub, we'll give you a quick recap: Benedict XVI met with a group of international journalists on his flight to Cameroon in March. He was asked by a French reporter whether the Church's approach to AIDS prevention -- which focuses primarily on sexual responsibility and rejects condom campaigns -- was "unrealistic and ineffective." Pope Benedict responded:
I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant'Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS and of all the sisters at the service of the sick. I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money -- which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, [money] doesn't help. One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.Now, most reasonable people would recognize the Pope's words as a simple restatement of the Church's basic position on AIDS, which has never had, in the words of a Vatican spokesman, "excessive or absolute trust in condom distribution" as a way to stop the spread of the disease. Nevertheless, the worldwide press took the opportunity to blow one sentence way out of proportion. The key phrase that drove the frenzy: "One cannot overcome the problem [of AIDS] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem."
For weeks afterward, the media, accompanied by apoplectic gay-rights activists, lit into the Pope with a nonstop barrage. The London Times alone published four separate pieces attacking the Pope the day after he made his "controversial" comments: an editorial, a guest commentary, an "analysis" piece (saying the Pope's is "a stance that even followers disagree with"), and an article that readers were supposed to believe was an objective news report. That alleged news report carried the headline: "Pope's attack on condoms sickens AIDS campaigners." In other words, according to The Times, the Pope made people sick. An unbiased report? Really?
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