Cultural Psychology

Latest Pope Bashing by the Media

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Latest Pope Bashing by the Media

Eager to seize even the slightest pretense for bashing the Pope, news media, European governments, and even medical journals have taken his recent comments about African AIDS completely out of context.

The Lancet even went so far as to accuse His Holiness of “manipulating science” and having “publicly distorted scientific evidence”. Apparently his critics have not bothered to read the transcript of his remarks. The context makes it plain that Pope Benedict scarcely denies the physical effects of condoms. His point, as his preceding sentences makes plain, was that the real solution to the AIDS crisis is to strengthen spiritual values in society — including a respect for continence and personal virtue. It is not condoms per se which contribute to the AIDS epidemic, but materialistic values which over-reliance on condoms as public policy promotes. Governments are happy to distribute condoms, but afraid to tell people: “look, you are spiritual beings with moral responsibilities; act that way.”

The Pope isn’t afraid to say that, and for exposing the pretensions of atheistic civil government they are attacking him.

They are counting on the fact that people won’t bother to read the transcript of the interview in question.

The relevant portion is as follows:

Moderator – Now a further question from a French speaker: our colleague Philippe Visseyrias from France 2:

VisseyriasYour Holiness, among the many ills that beset Africa, one of the most pressing is the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight it is often considered unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this theme during the journey? Holy Father, would you be able to respond in French to this question?

Pope – [Reply in Italian]. I would say the opposite. I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against AIDS is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant’Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick. I would say that this problem of Aids cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension [se non c’è l’anima — literally, if there is not soul], if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.

Here is a letter of reply I submitted to The Lancet.

To the Editors:

Subject: The Lancet Catholic Bashing

Concerning your editorial [1] on recent comments of Pope Benedict XVI:

A basic principle of science and civil discourse holds that, as words are inherently limited and ambiguous, one should consider context and interpret another’s statements generously. This is especially true when translation between languages is involved.

The opposite — to interpret something in the least charitable way — implies prejudice.

Clearly the Pope does not wish to “manipulate science” and has not “publicly distorted scientific evidence” as the editorial states; to suggest this reflects badly on the motives, credibility, and critical thinking of the Editors.

As the full transcript [2] shows, his comments were ethical in nature: they observed — correctly — that an excessive public emphasis on condoms, and the resulting underemphasis on issues of the soul (“se non c’è l’anima”), personal virtue, and continence, supports an overly casual cultural attitude towards extra-marital sex which is a major contributor to the AIDS epidemic.

To paraphrase your own remark: When an influential medical journal makes comments that misrepresent the intentions and statements of religious leaders in ways that could injure the religious health of many millions of people, it should retract or correct the public record.

The Editors should seek the causes of their inability to discern the plain meaning and intentions of the Pope. Perhaps this is a clue: Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. (Eph 4:18)

John S. Uebersax PhD
Brussels, Belgium


1. The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9669, Page 1054, 28 March 2009

2. “Interview of the holy father benedict xvi during the flight to Africa”. 17 March 2009.
Available at: (Accesssed 27 March 2009).


Written by John Uebersax

March 27, 2009 at 7:03 pm

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