In a possible Joe Biden moment, Pope Benedict allegedly softened his position on condom use in an interview with a German journalist this past summer. His remarks are being hailed as groundbreaking, even though the context is decidedly limited. The New York Times:
The pope’s statement on condoms was extremely limited: he did not approve their use or suggest that the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to back away from its prohibition of birth control. In fact, the one example he cited as a possibly appropriate use was by male prostitutes.
Still, the statement was something of a milestone for the church and a significant change for Benedict, who faced intense criticism last year when, en route to AIDS-plagued Africa, he said condom use did not help prevent the spread of AIDS, only abstinence and fidelity did.
There is no doubt that this is a positive development. But, unfortunately, the Church is not starting from a very progressive base to begin with. It is a bit like commending the Ugandan government from toning down legislation calling for the execution of gays. Life in prison is better than death, but it is still unequivocally wrong. The Vatican’s stance on the use of contraceptives in the past has been irrational and downright dangerous. First, I will give some background on the role of the Catholic church in developing countries.
The long-term assimilation effects of colonization by the Spanish, coupled with the work of missionaries throughout Africa, South America, and parts of Asia led to the spread of Catholicism in the developing world. Now, most of the Catholic church’s constituents hail from outside of Europe. The nations with the most Catholics are Brazil (74%, 145 million people), Mexico (91%, 105 million), and the Philippines (74%, 75 million). Of the billion or so Catholics in the world, a third come from these three countries. Another 158 million Catholics live in Africa, and hundreds of millions more in South and Central America. As a comparison, the United States has 68 million baptized Catholics, putting it in fourth place overall. In other words, the majority of the world’s Catholics live in someplace other than the West. And when the Pope speaks, Catholics all over the world are listening. Continue reading