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Denver youth minister encourages abstinence in fight against AIDS

.- Nearly a year after the Holy Father visited Africa and sparked controversy over the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, the facts continue to speak in favor of the Pope, a Denver youth and young adult minister told CNA.

Benedict XVI’s March 2009 remarks on condoms were made to a French reporter as he explained the Church's two-pronged approach to fighting AIDS. At one point in his response, the Pontiff stressed that AIDS cannot be overcome by advertising slogans and distributing condoms and argued that they “worsen the problem.” The media responded with an avalanche of over 4,000 articles on the subject, calling Benedict a “threat to public health,” and saying that the Catholic Church should “enter the 21st century.”

Harry Knox, a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships added to the criticism accusing the Pope of “hurting people in the name of Jesus.”

Then last month, when Knox was asked if he still stood by his statement, despite growing evidence that the Pope was right, he replied in the affirmative, stating that “scientific evidence shows otherwise.” 

“The Pope is right,” argued Chris Stefanick, director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries for the Archdiocese of Denver. “And the fact that people like Harry Knox are critiquing the Pope and continuing to throw condoms at the AIDS epidemic globally, and its not working, shows you who has personal dogmas that are more important to them than human lives.” 

Stefanick’s statement also referred to Rebecca Hodes of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign who said of Pope Benedict, “his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans.”  

But, Stefanick argued, the facts are behind Benedict XVI. To prove his point, Stefanick compared the African nations of Botswana and Uganda. Botswana promoted condom use from the beginning. Uganda, a primarily Catholic country, encouraged abstinence.

“In Botswana, Cameroon, and Kenya - they saw AIDS prevalence rise alongside condom distribution until they both leveled out,” noted Stefanick. “In Botswana today, where condoms are available nearly everywhere, one in six people is HIV positive or living with AIDS.”  

In Uganda, where abstinence is strongly promoted, the prevalence of AIDS has dropped and now affects less than six percent of the population. Stefanick quoted BBC News who stated that Uganda has done extremely well in fighting AIDS because, in many parts of the country, its prevalence “was at least three times higher in the early 90s.” 

Stefanick also cited a similar comparison, made between Thailand and the Philippines, where AIDS broke out at the same time.  Thailand’s approach promoted the distribution of condoms while the highly Catholic Philippines promoted abstinence. Twenty years after the outbreak, the prevalence of AIDS in Thailand is 50 times higher than in the Philippines.  

“According to the British Medical Journal, which is not a Catholic publication mind you, ‘the greater the percentage of Catholics in any country, the lower the level of HIV. If the Catholic Church is promoting a message about HIV in those countries it seems to be working,’” said Stefanick.  

Other relevant facts to the Pope’s opposition of condom use come from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) itself, said Stefanick. Despite the claims on condom packaging, which assert a 99% effectiveness, the NIH found that condoms are only 85% effective in preventing the transmission of AIDS and about 50% effective at blocking other STDs.  

“The calculus of condoms is very simple,” says Stefanick. “You decrease the risk a little, increase the risk takers a whole lot, and pretty soon you get what they have in Botswana where one in six people has AIDS. Or you get what we have here in America, where we are aggressively promoting condoms, yet every year, nine million young people under the age of 25 are getting an STD.”


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