Pope Benedict XVI is in Africa and speaking about AIDS/HIV. Hopefully to no one's surprise, he is reaffirming the Church's teaching on contraception, saying that condoms are not the answer to this health crisis. Also to no one's surprise, criticism of the pope's remarks are coming from certain quarters.
The Washington Post quoted Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. She said that the way the pope could show that he was serious about preventing HIV infections would be to promote access to condoms and how to use them.
"Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans," said Hodes, head of policy, communication and research for the group.
Where to begin with what is wrong with this statement? Could it be the fallacious argument that not distributing condoms kills people? Could it be the relativistic notion that religious belief and values can be put on and taken off, like one's coat? Could it be the subtext that "boys will be boys" (and that "girls" will let them)?
To me, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this philosophy is the fundamental view of the human person. If people are treated as though they are animals without free will, then they will live up to those expectations. (Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows the truth of the self-fulfilling prophecy of expectations).
The Vatican published a brief response to the criticism of the pope's statements. Frankly, it strikes me as a bit flat, although it certainly highlights important points. But it does not inspire.
When we see that there is opposition to the teachings of the Church on so many fronts from our culture, we need to remember Jesus' words to Pontius Pilate:
"My kingdom does not belong to this world...." (John 18:36)
We need to remember St. Paul's words:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
But we do not get to sit out the struggle and wait for a limousine ride to heaven. We especially need to remember Jesus' words to the Father:
"I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth." (John 17:14-19)
As we are reminded at the end of every mass, we have been sent into the world. So let us go and do what we have been sent to do.