POV: Pope on Condoms – Half Right Church, Still Wrong Pew

Michelle E. Brown is a community organizer, an authentic speaker, a dynamic leader, and a true voice for the African-American LGBT community.

Hello, I’m Michelle and I’m a recovering Catholic. I usually don’t out myself as a Catholic unless it’s for shock value or an excuse to get out of contentious religious discussions. But it’s true; I am a Catholic – not a convert, but a right from the start Catholic – baptized as a baby, first communion in second grade, confirmed in the sixth grade.

I went to church every morning from Sunday to Friday, confessed on Saturday and then started the circuit all over again. Nine years of Catholic school learning the dogma, studying my catechism, thinking I had the calling, and ultimately questioning everything I had been taught.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater; I just don’t believe the hype. I know a lot of who I am comes from my Catholic background – my work ethic, my appreciation of the arts and education, my passion against hatred and inequality, regardless of the reason.

You see the main the thing I learned from all those years of catechism, religion classes, and praying was that the one thing Jesus wouldn’t do – contrary to catholic doctrine – was discriminate.

Now that’s off my chest – let’s talk about sex, shall we?

My Catholic upbringing said sex was for making babies, contraception was a no-no, condoms fell somewhere on the sin chart, and homosexuality is an abomination.

The adult me, actually the teenage me, rejected all this a long time ago. Sex isn’t just about having babies. It feels good. We are sexual beings and we are going to have sex.

So out comes this report that Pope Benedict, in his new book, said that the use of condoms can be justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes seeking to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Good news in part but still fraught with the contradictions ingrained in Catholic doctrine.

Let’s break it down.

Many have welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms as a sign that the church is making positive steps in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Condoms are effective in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, true.  But the Pope’s comments that condoms could be morally justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes and sex workers seeking to prevent the spread of AIDS, is at the same time reinforcing the church’s position banning the use of condoms as a contraceptive leaves the score on condoms still: Men 1. Women still 0.

Unfortunately today women account for more than 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States alone. Of these newly infected women about 2 out of 3 are African American. Most of these women, whether black or white, got HIV/AIDS from having unprotected sex with men – heterosexual men.

Although Hollywood has glorified the male gigolo in films, for the most part male prostitutes primarily service male clientele and not necessarily gay male clientele. Many of these clients would be the first to tell you they aren’t gay. They just like to have sex with men, but they aren’t gay.

I think I would be on safe ground to say that the primary clients of female sex workers are also men. A 1992 survey published by the Health Education in Prostitution, which included 125 on the street interviews of low-income female sex workers, found that, although 74% self-reported frequency of condom use, 53% offered one or more reasons for sometimes not using condoms. The reasons ranged from not using condoms with trusted regular partners to client refusal.

Unprotected sex with one is like having unprotected sex with every person the “client” has had sex with. There is no such thing as a monogamous relationship in prostitution.

Often these are the men – the husbands, boyfriends, down-low brothers – who take HIV/AIDS along with other STDs  home to unsuspecting wives and girlfriends.

Between 1978 and 2004 Catholicism has undergone rapid growth, especially in Africa.  Although the majority remains Muslim, 1 billion are Catholics.

HIV/AIDS is a major public health concern and cause of death in Africa. With only 14% of the world’s total population, it is estimated that 88% of the continent’s population is living with HIV and 92% of all AIDS deaths.

Women are the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, making up a disproportionate 57%.  These aren’t sex workers. They are often victims of violence, culturally disenfranchised, and impoverished.

Despite the many achievements of women, many women and girls remain in relationships where they have less power, remaining in abusive and otherwise harmful relationships taking safe sex decisions out of their own hands.

As hopeful as Benedict’s comments may seem, it leaves women at risk. For these wives and girlfriends, worldwide, using condoms is still considered birth control. I for one do not believe a cheating husband or boyfriend is going to own up to having unprotected sex with a consensual partner or sex worker when they get back home wanting their conjugal rights.

The teachings of the Catholic Church are not solely responsible for the increase of HIV/AIDS in women. Society is. Sex is still a taboo subject; sex education in schools is restricted and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS still carry a stigma of shame.

By not addressing the disparities of women in education, distribution of wealth, healthcare and demanding reproductive rights, we allow our male dominated world leadership to keep women at risk.

A real positive step in the fight against HIV/AIDS coming from all religious and governmental leaders would be an ongoing discussion on human rights. Not just on poverty, education, distribution of wealth, human sexuality, women’s rights, violence against women/children and gay rights but on community building – developing a world filled with peace on earth and goodwill for every woman, child and man.

It’s movement in the right direction, Benedict, but it’s time that you and the rest of your brethren get with the real program – LIFE.

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