As the pope traveled to Africa, he chose this moment to make what appears to be his first unequivocal statement opposing condom use. In an interview on the papal plane to Cameroon, the pope acknowledged the HIV/AIDS crisis but claimed that the distribution of condoms would not resolve the problem. In fact, he said, condom use 'increases the problem. The pope will find that few Catholics and even fewer medical personnel agree with his stance. Several bishops in Africa, including especially Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg in South Africa, have been outspoken in their support of the use of condoms. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many people who work with Catholic relief agencies distribute condoms to those at risk of infection.
While condoms are not a panacea for the problem, they are a critical part of the campaign to reduce the impact of the virus. Medical experts agree that the condom is a life-saving device: it is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission if used correctly and consistently, and is the best current method of HIV prevention for those who are sexually active and at risk.
For the Catholic hierarchy to deny the role that condoms play in preventing the further spread of HIV is irresponsible and dangerous. Not only that, the Catholic hierarchy has lobbied governments in the global north against the inclusion of funding for condoms in development aid programs.
Catholics the world over unequivocally state that using condoms is prolife and disagree with the Vatican's ban on condoms. Now is not the time for the pope to be dismissing the importance of condom use. As he travels to Africa, he will face the realities of the epidemic. Let us hope and pray that he reconsiders and reverses his position, and in doing so, adopts the truly prolife position that ordinary Catholics have already embraced: using condoms saves lives.