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The anti-Catholic journalist: noisy, but intellectually poor and blind.
(Vasily Vereshchagin. Japanese Beggar. Source)
If you listen to some journalists, you could believe that the Catholic Church is guilty of genocide in Africa, because of its teachings on the condom. The AIDS epidemic, according to these journalists, would be more or less directly caused by the Pope.
Is this true?
In this article, I won't discuss the morality of condoms. I won't talk either from the point of view of religion. I will on the contrary attempt a scientific approach to the problem of condoms, AIDS and the teachings of the Church.
Let's imagine we're scientists. What would we reply if someone asked us this question:
Are the official teachings of the Catholic Church concerning condoms an exacerbating or attenuating factor in the AIDS epidemic?
As scientists, our first reaction would be the humble caution so characteristic of true lovers of Science. Indeed a scientist, by definition, is a person who refuses to rely on his prejudices, on folklore, on hearsay, etc. A scientist is someone who tries to avoid asserting anything unless he has scientific proofs to back it up.
Our second reaction would be to do some research in what is usually called "the scientific literature". Indeed, a scientist isn't supposed to be an airhead! Why rack our brains to reinvent the wheel? If another scientist has already done the scientific experiment which answers our question, all we need to do is find that study!
Here, the plot thickens. In order to recognize the study which answers our question (assuming it has been done already), we have to be able to tell the difference between a scientific study, and baloney! A good tip is to pretend we want to conduct such a study ourselves.
Designing a complete experiment isn't easy. We'll limit ourselves here to outlining a few principles of this experimental design.
3.1) We have to be able to measure the outcome. We're trying to find out if some "treatment" (in this case Catholicism) worsens or reduces the AIDS epidemic. We therefore need technical means (HIV status tests, teams of technicians, computers to collect data, etc.) to measure the outcomes. But technical means aren't enough: we also need "political" means. Indeed, we have to be able, one way or an other, to "sample" the population and conduct some tests.
3.2) We need reliable baseline information. No matter how well we measure the "After", if we have no clear idea of the "Before", we won't be able to conclude anything.
3.3) We have to be able to guarantee the purity of the medication. If you want to check the effectiveness of a new antibiotic, but sometimes you inject that new antibiotic, and sometimes you inject sewage water, it's fair to say your research won't be very scientific! It's the same thing if you want to verify the effectiveness of Catholicism. It's easy to observe that all kinds of people claim to be "Catholic", even though they aren't. Of course, a scientist conducting research on AIDS shouldn't need to be an accomplished theologian! On the other hand, even the worst sociologist will be able to come up with a little operational definition of a Catholic. For example, it could be a small questionnaire which would ask the respondant if he believes everthing the Catholic Church teaches (especially concerning "watershed topics" like abortion, contraception, papal infallibility, etc.). See also "Excommunication, That Gesture Of Love!", but don't read that text from a religious point of view. Read it from the point of view of a sociologist who wants to determine who must be considered Catholic, for the purposes of this scientific study.
3.4) We have to specifiy what we consider to be "the treatment". Here also, we have to distinguish the scientist's point of view from that of the Parish Priest. The scientist can decide somewhat arbitrairily to define "the treatment" as being just a few simple and measurable things, like:
3.4.1) One weekly reminder to show up at Sunday Mass. It could be a phone call, etc.
3.4.2) A Sunday Mass said according to the rules of the Church. To simplify the study, the scientist could specify that the Mass would be said by an Opus Dei Priest. Statistically, these days, Opus Dei Priests have some of the lowest rates of heresies and "defrocking" among the whole Catholic clergy.
3.4.3) Reading the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church one hour a day. It's easy to make sure that each family or person participating in this study has a copy of those books at home.
3.4.4) Saying the Rosary once a day. Once again, we're not taking the point of view of the Priest, but the scientist. A Priest will go berserk if his parishioners only say the Rosary mechanically, without praying with all their heart! But the scientist just looks at the external phenomena and takes notes.
3.5) We have to take compliance into account. If you wanted to verify the effectiveness of a medication, you'd have to make sure the patients took it! Not only do the patients have to take the medication, but they also have to take it correctly, according to the instructions. Of course, a medication can be more or less difficult to take, and we could even come to the conclusion that a medication is effective, but not recommendable because it's too difficult to take! But whatever the case, we have to measure compliance and include it in the final evaluation of the treatment.
3.6) Avoid biased samples. Of course, if you compare on one hand rich and educated couples who are married and have young children, and on the other hand poor, unemployed young men who are cut off from their parents, you'll probably detect more HIV-positive individuals in the second group.
As far as I know, such an experiment has never been conducted.
Too bad, because in theory, everything leads us to think that the Catholic "treatment" should work. The Church teaches that people must avoid taking drugs. Moreover, the Church teaches that people have to remain virgins until they get married, and then that they must remain faithful to their spouse after marriage, and never get divorced. If a population applied these rules strictly, AIDS would disappear.
Don't rush to say that's unrealistic. You'd be accused, correctly, of projecting on others your own shortcomings.
Conversely, it appears to me that some current condom distribution campaigns just make the problem worse. I once translated videos for a "pro-condom" campaign against AIDS in South Africa, and it was asserted very clearly that men were incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. Firstly, that is false, and I can show you living proofs anytime. Secondly, men in some ways are very "flexible". If you constantly repeat to someone that he's unable to control his sexual impulses, at some point in time, you'll probably convince him! (See also "The Catholic Church and Sex-Voodoo")
Even if I've never heard of a scientific study on the effectiveness of Catholicism to fight the AIDS epidemic, I've nevertheless read many articles where journalists accused the Church of genocide. If only those journalists quoted studies on that topic! But no, even in the most "scientific" magazines, they throw the accusation, and then run away.
If the only victim of this behavior was the Catholic Church, that wouldn't be so bad. Catholics are used to being slandered (and even fed to the lions!). But the sad part is that the AIDS epidemic is very real, and Africans desperately need true and humble Science. If the Catholic Church is right, then campaigns to distribute condoms and promote recreational sex are not motivated by Science but by political ideologies, and they are causing great harm to Africans.
Sometimes, I get the impression that some journalists have slipped big condoms over their heads, to avoid being "contaminated" by Science...
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