Danish theologian Peder Norgaard-Hojen, speaking of Pope Benedict XVI, admits, "Theologically he is well-founded - he knows it all."
But, of course, there is a "but": But I don't think he is the right man for the job. He forgets life." And:
"He ignores reality as it is. From a limited, theological point of view he is correct that the use of condoms goes contrary to the Catholic requirement of protecting life where it is found. But when he puts forward this sort of message on a continent where sexual practices mean that thousands of people die, it is clear to me that Pope Benedict has completely forgotten what kind of world it is that he exists in," says Norgaard-Hojen.
"I know the pope. He has visited us and he knows what we are working with," says Norgaard-Hojen, who sees a major risk that Pope Benedict will lead the Vatican astray.
"The mistake he made during the Africa visit shows that the pope scorns reality. He must learn that the world has become extremely complex. If he doesn't reach this understanding, things can go terribly wrong," he adds.
But the National Bioethics Center thinks that Benedict, not Norgaard-Hojen, has the better grasp of reality:
In recent years, researchers have paid greater attention to the specific issue Benedict raised: the possibility that condom promotion even risks “worsening the problem.” The theory that people may take greater risks in exposing themselves to harm because they feel a new technology grants them a measure of protection in doing so, goes by the names of “risk compensation” or “behavioral disinhibition” in public health circles. A series of recently published articles (including in the Lancet) have concluded that this phenomenon – that condom promotion can lead to greater risk taking - is quite real indeed.
Finally, the track record for condoms – by far the most emphasized approach over the years – has been rather poor in Africa. An exhaustive review of the impact of condom promotion on actual HIV transmission in the developing world concluded that condoms have not been responsible for turning around any of the severe African epidemics. This rigorous study was originally commissioned by UNAIDS, and conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco. Instead of welcoming the findings, and adapting HIV prevention strategies accordingly, UNAIDS first tried to alter the findings, and ultimately refused to publish them. The findings were so threatening to UNAIDS that the researchers were finally forced to publish them on their own in another, peer-reviewed journal.
And then there is the testimony of Dr. Edward Green, who is Director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard School of Public Health and Center for Population and Development Studies. A medical anthropologist with three decades spent fighting AIDS in developing countries, Dr. Green has been clear about his belief that Benedict has the facts right:
The Pope’s statement about AIDS and condoms is at the centre of a sharp debate and many – from Mr. Kouchner to Mr. Zapatero, including the EU Commission – have claimed his position to be abstract and eventually dangerous. What is your opinion ?
I am a liberal on social issues and it’s difficult to admit, but the Pope is indeed right. The best evidence we have shows that condoms do not work as an intervention intended to reduce HIV infection rates, in Africa. (They have worked in e.g. Thailand and Cambodia, which have very different epidemics)
In a recent interview to NRO you said that there is no consistent association between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates. Could you deepen this point?
Read more here. And here. Could it be that Norgaard-Hojen is the one with a tentative grasp of reality? Well, he did say, "We probably have to admit that the Vatican newspaper (Ed: l'Osservatore Romano) is just about as truthful as Pravda was during Soviet communism." 'Nuf said.