Audacity of the Pope

Nothing scandalizes liberals like the idea of sexual restraint.

Pope Benedict XVI threw the mainstream media into a tizzy last week by daring to suggest that behavioral changes could have greater success in slowing down the spread of AIDS in Africa than throwing condoms at the problem.

The Holy Father told reporters on March 17 that the “scourge” of AIDS:

[C]annot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer.

According to a March 19 article by TIME magazine's Jeff Israely,  this was “inflammatory rhetoric.” . Israely wrote, “Benedict might easily have opted for a pat response along the lines of 'Church teaching is clear on contraception. We must focus on education, abstinence and caring for those already infected. Instead, the Pope chose to favor the letter of his philosophy over a smooth p.r. ride. Again.”  

So Israely's problem is not with the substances of the pontiff's remarks but the style. You just can't talk that way in polite liberal company.

Citing a bizarre response from a European parliament member who said Benedict's statement was "close to premeditated murder," Israely wrote that “Benedict, for better or worse, should have learned by now: inflammatory rhetoric begets inflammatory rhetoric.” Israely failed to notice, however, that much of the “inflammatory rhetoric” came from mainstream reporters, activists and academics.

Who's Inflammatory?

CNN's Jack Cafferty called for the Catholic Church “to enter the 21st century, or at least try to drag itself out the the 13th century” on the March 18 “Situation Room.” Gay activist Wayne Besen told Laura Ingraham on the March 19 “O'Reilly Factor” Benedict's comments were “irresponsible and quite frankly…unconscionable.” For Robert S. McElvaine, a professor at Millsaps College, the Pope's view on condoms is the latest in a list of perceived wrongs that have him calling for impeachment proceedings in a March 19 post for the Washington Post's “On Faith” blog.

Other outlets such as U.S. News and World Report, the New York Times and the Post acknowledged that condoms alone are not the answer to the AIDS epidemic. But that didn't stop U.S. News and World Report Contributing Editor Bonnie Erbe in her March 18 article at from labeling Benedict's comment “one of the most horrifically ignorant statements.” 

In the very same March 18 editorial that stated that “condom promotion” has not worked in sub-Saharan Africa “probably because far too few people use condoms consistently and correctly,” the Times said  the Pope was “grievously wrong” in stating condoms could actually contribute to the spread of AIDS and that “it seems irresponsible to blame condoms for making the epidemic worse.”

The March 19 Washington Post editorial noted, “That the pope chose to question the value of condoms in fighting the nearly 28-year-old scourge while heading to the continent whose people are most affected by it is troubling.” 

The Condom Gospel

CNN's Zain Verjee on the March 17 “Situation Room,” stated, “Experts say people really just need to listen to the health care workers and experts and to the community leaders on how to avoid HIV infection.”

Verjee and others in the mainstream media are of course talking about the “experts” and evidence that emphasize condom use over all other methods as a way to stop the spread of AIDS. Verjee's report featured Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said, “There's no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the distribution of condoms to people who would be using condoms in any manner or form makes them engage in more risky sexual activity.”

Israley noted, “Despite scientific consensus that condoms greatly reduce the risk of contracting the HIV virus, nothing has budged at the Vatican.”

The Post editorial stated, “Still, doctors on the front lines of the fight against the AIDS epidemic established long ago that the use of condoms greatly diminishes the transmission of HIV, the cause of a disease that has no cure.”

NBC's Dawna Friesen cited AIDS workers on March 19, who called the statement, “alienating, ignorant and pernicious,” and reported, “Condemnation too from France, Belgium and Germany. The health ministers there saying bluntly condoms save lives and the Pope's views represent a dangerous doctrinaire vision.”

ABC's Dan Harris noted on the March 19 “Good Morning America” that Benedict's comment “was met with swift condemnation from many scientists.”

In the rush to condemn Benedict's heresy, the mainstream media failed to ask Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies for his opinion.

Green told National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez that

There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded 'Demographic Health Surveys,' between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction 'technology' such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by 'compensating' or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.

In contrast to what the mainstream media reported, Green also noted, “More and more AIDS experts are coming to accept the above [emphasis on fidelity and abstinence]. The two countries with the worst HIV epidemics, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns to discourage multiple and concurrent partners, and to encourage fidelity.”

Mainstream media also ignored the success Uganda found in lowering the HIV rate by emphasizing behavioral changes over condom use with its ABC campaign (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms).

Rev. Sam L. Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, explained in a June 30, 2008 Washington Post op-ed, “We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful.” As a result of urging faithfulness, Ruteikara noted, “The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002.” 

Yet, determined health “experts” continued to push condoms as the solution to the AIDS epidemic, and according to Rueikara, “Uganda's HIV rates have begun to tick back up.”

Rueikara detailed the lengths condom proponents went to in order to push their own ideology:

PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for HIV – AIDS Relief] calls for Western experts to work as equal partners with African leaders on AIDS prevention. But as co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, I have seen this process sabotaged. Repeatedly, our 25-member prevention committee put faithfulness and abstinence into the National Strategic Plan that guides how PEPFAR money for our country will be spent. Repeatedly, foreign advisers erased our recommendations. When the document draft was published, fidelity and abstinence were missing.

Jim Pinkerton, a Fox News panelist, summed up the media's problem with the Pope's statements during a March 21 Fox News Watch appearance:

Look, the liberal media comes at the AIDS issue from the world view that sex is good and it doesn't really matter whether you're straight or gay or married or unmarried. Just more sex the better. It's liberation. It's freedom. The Pope, shall we say, comes from a different tradition, which has a fair number of adherences around the world, including in Africa. And he sticks to his guns.

The media's outrage over Benedict's comments come from the fact that he dares to suggest that people can be taught to control their sexual behavior and that there are consequences for having sex outside of marriage.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Instiute, a division of the Media Research Center.