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Pope ignorant about AIDS

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Pope Benedict's statement upon arriving in Cameroon was, "AIDS cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms." This is one of the most horrifically ignorant statements made by a world leader since former President George W. Bush's promise to "smoke 'em out" in reference to terrorist leaders including Osama bin Laden. Need I remind you that Bush never did "smoke out" bin Laden?

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Back to Africa: Pope Benedict told a tumultuous welcoming crowd in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, that not only do condoms fail to prevent the spread of AIDS, "On the contrary, they increase the problem." It was his most provocative, delineated anti-condom pronouncement since his election in 2005. Moreover, he made the statement as he began his visit to the most AIDS-ravaged continent. In Africa, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS, and another 22 million are living with the disease.

All the pontiff need do to acquire a more educated view of AIDS in Africa is to read the widespread literature about women and how they acquire the disease. The percentage of female AIDS patients who are prostitutes, or drug addicts, is dwarfed by the percentage who are married women living upstanding lives in their communities.

The pope advised them, according to the Reuters news agency, to exhibit, "correct behavior regarding one's body." Very helpful! That advice is completely useless to the typical woman in Africa who contracts the disease. Her profile is that of a teenage virgin sold into marriage against her will and "betrothed" to a much older man who has many lovers. He is infected with AIDS and refuses to use protection.

The United Nations magazine, Africa Recovery, quotes an expert who participated in a UN survey of AIDS' impact on young African women. She described the conditions under which most young African women contract AIDS as follows:

"(They) are not in a position to abstain. They are not in a position to demand faithfulness of their partners. In many cases they are in fact faithful, but are being infected by unfaithful partners...A woman who is a victim of violence or the fear of violence is not going to negotiate anything, let alone fidelity or condom use...Her main objective is to get through the day without being beaten up." So much for condom bashing.

The pope is correct in saying that AIDS cannot be eradicated by condom use alone. Clearly, when young women are raped or otherwise forced into sex against their will, the men abusing them will not commit to use condoms.

But instead of offering these women useless verbiage, the pope could have offered the vast resources of the church to distribute anti-viral foam to young married women in AIDS-infested areas. Foam is the only form of AIDS prevention that young wives completely control and can use without their husbands' permission.

Distributing anti-viral foam to young married women would help prevent the spread of AIDS while still creating the babies the church so desperately needs to fill its pews. But Pope Benedict made no mention of offering such help to African AIDS victims. He showed no understanding of the terrible lives these women endure, or the damage done to their children, many of whom are born HIV-positive or with AIDS.

Reuters also reported on the pope's trip: "The church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. It does not approve condoms but some church leaders have been calling for allowing their use in rare cases between married heterosexual couples where one partner has the disease." This is a more principled view and much more charitable to parishioners than that of the pope.

Pope Benedict has shown no sympathy for wives whose husbands have AIDS. A less compassionate or understanding view of their situation than his is hard to fathom.

-- Erbe is a TV host and writes for Scripps Howard News Service.

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