terça-feira, março 15, 2005
Os erros do Papa
The Pope's grievous errors
With over a billion members, the Catholic Church is a much neglected institution affecting medicine. Despite a scientific training that sometimes casts doubt and even ridicule on religion, doctors know that an individual patient's personal faith can give strength and offer purpose in the face of profound suffering and despair.
Faith can be therapeutic. But when it comes to organised religion--and especially the policies of the current Pope--faith seems to present insuperable obstacles to the prevention of disease. Nowhere is this problem more acute than in HIV/AIDS. The Catholic Church recognises the enormous human toll of AIDS. Pope John Paul II has described this pandemic as "undoubtedly one of the major catastrophes of our time, especially in Africa". He has emphasised how Catholic institutions provide a quarter of the total care given to people living with HIV. He has called for the urgent treatment of young people infected with the virus, for the Church to campaign to extend the rights of women, for pharmaceutical companies to recognise their social responsibilities in providing access to medicines, and for the Church "to assist those affected by this disease and to keep the public duly informed about it".
But Pope John Paul II is also unforgiving in his interpretation of Church doctrines when he speaks about stopping the spread of HIV. He is harshly critical of traditional African practices, such as polygamy, without signalling any understanding of African history or culture. He abhors what he labels the continent's "contraceptive mentality". And, displaying an astonishing lack of knowledge about the daily pressures of African life, he condemns what he describes as African "irresponsible and immoral sexual activity". Worse still, the Pope opposes concepts central to AIDS prevention, such as sexual and reproductive health.
The errors are not all on one side. Last week, UNAIDS published a report on the future of the HIV epidemic in Africa--"AIDS in Africa: three scenarios to 2025". The agency presented a bleak picture, forecasting that 10% of Africa's population might die by 2025 if more was not done to limit the spread of infection. Given the influence of Catholic teaching, it is surprising and disappointing that nowhere in this report is there a sustained analysis of the contributions, advantageous and adverse, that the Church is currently making to the pandemic in Africa.
The Pope has also published a book recently. "Memory and identity" is trailed as his "intellectual and spiritual legacy". A studied response of HIV/AIDS is absent from that legacy. Instead, he prefers to point out angrily the "ruinous consequences in the moral sphere of public life".
Neither the Catholic Church nor UNAIDS seems willing to engage each other in a mature discussion about what both parties agree is one of the gravest threats to human health and well being. This self-imposed mutual isolation is in no-one's best interests, least of all those living in Africa. Encouragingly, there are new signs of difference between the Pope and some of his Cardinals. Last month, Cardinal Georges Cottier suggested that condoms were a "morally legitimate" means to stop the spread of AIDS. Catholics around the world may wish to look forward to a time when their Church fully embraces its public role--not only to serve those visited by suffering, but also to apply its doctrines, humbly and courageously, to those whose lives are under extraordinary threat.
Regrettably, the verdict on the present Pope's legacy will be that he allowed a mistakenly applied principle to destroy the possibility of a common human front against AIDS. His successor must replace this ecclesiastical error with clerical compassion.