Monday, March 23, 2009

The Pope on Trial: Guilty of Manslaughter

Sorry for the delay in postings. Sometimes time just sneaks past you.

So I’ve debating posting this as it may be considered offensive by some of my Catholic friends, but I cannot, in good conscious, let this pass without addressing it. You’ve seen, by now, the statements Pope Benedict XVI made regarding HIV/Aids and condom use in Africa. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease and Pope Benedict has stated, “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”

He continues, “You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Wait, what?!? Did I just hear the Pope, Catholicism’s leader and unquestioned holder of the hotline to G-d, say that condoms will actually INCREASE the HIV/Aids epidemic? I’ve read multiple sources for these statements and in the end, yes, he is staying exactly that. I understand he is advocating abstinence as the best solution, and while I agree in the ideal world it would be, that course of action has clearly, and unequivocally, failed. A few numbers…

- More than 60% of the world’s 40 million HIV infected people live in sub-Sahara Africa
- In three southern African countries, the national adult HIV prevalence rate has now exceeds 20%! These countries are Botswana (23.9%), Lesotho (23.2%) and Swaziland (26.1%)
- Average life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa is now down to 47 years, when it could be 62 without AIDS

Imagine that. Think of your 3 closest friends or family members. Now think that one of you has HIV. That’s reality in some of these countries. There is no magic bullet to solve this crisis; there is no Dr. Salk waiting in the wings with a miracle cure. But it can be fought.

Effective HIV prevention campaigns have been carried out in Senegal, which is reflected in the relatively low adult HIV prevalence rate of 0.9%. Also, Uganda shows us that a widespread AIDS epidemic can be brought under control. HIV prevalence in Uganda fell from around 15% in the early 1990s to around 5% by 2001. This was done through prevention education, early detection and advanced drug treatment. Prevention education included teaching how the disease spreads, advocating abstinence, and the distribution of condoms.

Abstinence only programs are like plugging Niagara Falls with a few rocks: you may slow the downpour a little, but in the end it will all come over the ledge. A comprehensive prevention program is what is needed. Yes, advocate for abstinence, but don’t put all your money on one horse, because time has shown us that that one horse is a long-term loser.

From the legal definition of involuntary manslaughter:
“An omission to act or a failure to perform a duty constitutes criminally negligent manslaughter. The existence of the duty is essential. Since the law does not recognize that an ordinary person has a duty to aid or rescue another in distress, a death resulting from an ordinary person's failure to act is not manslaughter. On the other hand, an omission by someone who has a duty, such as a failure to attempt to save a drowning person by a lifeguard, might constitute involuntary manslaughter.”

I think we can all agree that by the nature of his position Pope Benedict XVI is not an “ordinary person.” He has a duty to protect life as he demonstrates repeatedly in other areas, including Pro-Life, that he is willing to be held up as an authority and one responsible for leading the moral and spiritual lives of over one billion people. Is he not the lifeguard of these billion plus people? Is he not responsible for helping to educate them, properly, about how to protect their lives and those of their children?

Pope Benedict XVI is engaging in criminal behavior by endangering millions of people by discouraging the use of condoms. I understand wanting to hold fast to an ideology and to religious precepts, but as a rational human being (remember, G-d made us this way) I would expect one should use the knowledge gained through proper scientific method. Assuming one cannot condone condoms, surely one has a duty to not speak out against them in the global fight against HIV. Advocate your preferred method, but don’t put millions of lives at risk by proclaiming condoms as a cause and denouncing them as an effective method to stem the continued transmission of a disease that carries a certain death sentence.

I have had many issues with the current Pope, from his questionable revoking of excommunicated, Holocaust denying Bishops, to him reinstating the Tridentine rite, to my unapologetic subjective view that he is but a shell of the man and religious leader Pope John Paul II was. But to me, this act constitutes criminally negligent, involuntary manslaughter and is a terrible miscarriage of truth. I also believe it clearly breaks the 6th (5th for Catholics) commandment, “You shall not murder.” Although he himself is not pulling the trigger and taking a man’s life, he is instructing them how, and telling them it is the right thing to do to, to load the proverbial gun by advocating against condom use.

The Catholic Church needs to reevaluate their long standing opinion on condoms and “unnatural” birth control devices. It is no longer about preventing life from being made, but about saving lives that are already here.

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