Hold your applause.
Last week, during a lengthy interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI recanted his position on condoms, stating that “in certain cases” condoms were justified to use in order to “reduce the risk of [HIV] infection.” However, his tacit acceptance of condoms does not constitute an endorsement of them. The Catholic Church remains wedded to their ideas, and while most changes in the Catholic Church’s position are for the better, too often these changes come far too late to be effective or relevant.
Take for example the Pope’s abolishment of the concept of Limbo just three years ago. Until then, for centuries parents of children who died before they were baptized were led to believe that their infants were sent to the edge of Hell. In 1965, centuries after his death, the Church revoked its condemnation of Galileo for promoting the heliocentric theory, a scientific model accepted as fact by the majority of the public. In 1995, centuries after the acts occurred, the Church finally apologized for its involvement in the African slave trade. These apologies are merely a summary of the many atrocities committed if not by the Catholic Church, then without outright condemnation by the Church.
We’ve only to be thankful that it didn’t take centuries for them to stop condemning condoms.
While the Church prides itself on its altruism and charity, for many years Vatican officials and bishops peddled one of the most dangerous things to say: that condoms do not help prevent HIV infections. During the Pope’s first trip to Africa in March 2009, he even remarked that the AIDS epidemic was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome … through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problem.” For it to have taken so long and so many lost lives for the Pope to realize what experts and laymen alike have known for decades, that condoms save lives, represents a moral failing within the Church. Thousands died while the Church stood in favor of religious dogma over the starch reality. The Pope’s commitment to the Church’s traditional teachings and the Church’s commitment to social justice are nothing short of admirable, but for a group dedicated to morality, its morally dishonest to suggest what experts have refuted in order to promote its own ideas and agenda.
Conservative institutions like the Catholic Church will always be criticized for their idealistic stances, but popular opinion and public scrutiny should not shape their positions on controversial matters. A pressurized change is not and does not represent genuine change.
Change should come from within the institution if it is to be authentic and lasting. That’s why it’s critical that Pope Benedict XVI lead in a manner that respects the traditions and doctrines of the Church while dealing with issues like condom use to reduce HIV/AIDS infections in a pragmatic and practical way. The first step has been taken; now, not centuries from today, is the time for the Catholic Church to follow their proclamation with swift and deliberate action. If the Catholic Church wishes to remain a credible force for good in the world, they must lead with the honesty and humility that has been lacking for some time.