After his remarks, ACT UP Philadelphia released a press release to soundly condemn the Pope's statement. Waheedah Shabazz-El, long-time ACT UP member, best captured ACT UP's outrage,
"People in positions of power have a moral responsibility in the face of a public health crisis such as HIV, to offer honest, accurate and life-saving information that directly addresses the epidemic. Denying people condoms doesn't stop people from having sex....it stops people from having safer sex. To put it simply, condoms save lives and so if you are against condoms then you are against saving lives."Apparently ACT UP (and others) ruffled the Vatican's feathers enough that last week they found it necessary to issue a formal statement to rebuke the criticism of their infallible pontiff. They let down millions by not using this as an opportunity to finally say, "Oops, the Pope was totally wrong about that; looks like he is not infallible after all." Instead, the Vatican had the audacity to claim that, "critics of the Catholic Church's social teachings are trying to intimidate Pope Benedict XVI into silence." Really? It is unbelievable how the oppressors so like to play themselves off as the victims!! So, who is really silencing who here...?
Last time I checked it was the Catholic Church who is: 1) silencing evidence-based HIV prevention by condemning the use of condoms and contraceptives, which results in increasing the rate of HIV, STDs and unplanned pregnancies (which then also increases risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission), 2) silencing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people around the world by enforcing their bigoted and stigmatizing views of "sexual normalcy" and "sexual deviance" (by the way, what about all those boy sex abuse scandals...), 3) silencing all external and internal criticism of the Pope...
The last point is important because some defenders of the Pope's comments will make the argument that the criticism of the Pope came not from Africa but only from the West. For example, Rev. John Wauck is quoted in the Associated Press article as saying, "[Africans] weren't up in arms about what the pope was saying. The people who were up in arms are in Brussels." Really?
But this is just a scapegoat tactic to cast blame against "those Western critics," while conveniently ignoring the much less publicized (or much more muzzled?) internal criticism. I would ask Rev. Wauck, for example, if he talked to AIDS activists from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa? Or to HIV+ members of Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK)? Or to the nine Senegalese gay rights and HIV awareness advocates who are now serving eight years in prison on charges of committing "homosexual acts"? I think he probably did not factor in these people's views.
If Rev. Wauck (or the Pope, for that matter) had cared enough to talk to any of these people, he would know that many Africans (including many African Catholics, and even a number of Catholic Reverends!!) do NOT agree with the Pope's comments. And so lastly, the Catholic Church is also taking great pains to specifically: 4) silence those in the Global South, the very same people they pretend to serve the most. By trying to silence people in the Global South who disagree with the Pope and the Church's official policies, the Vatican only serves to reinforce the motto that ACT UP knows all too well: Silence = Death.
So while the Pope and the Catholic Church clamor over "saving" people's spiritual lives, it seems that they don't seem to care so much for protecting and saving people's physical lives. Perhaps some day the Vatican will actually admit that the Pope is not infallible after all, and the Holy See will open their eyes to see the reality of evidence-based HIV prevention. Unfortunately, the Vatican has chosen instead to once again confirm that they and condoms do share one thing in common: they are both scumbags. The difference is that condoms are scumbags that prevent AIDS, while the Vatican continues to be full of scumbags who promote ignorance, sexual stigma and ineffective policies that lead to more people contracting HIV, and more unnecessary deaths. When will they grow up and realize that people's real lives are on the line, this is not some morality game.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of ACT UP and other ACT UP members. The picture is by Matt Buck from hackcartoonsdiary.com