segunda-feira, maio 09, 2005
O papa e a sida
The Pope and AIDS
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: May 8, 2005
SÃO PAULO, Brazil
Let's hope that Pope Benedict XVI quickly realizes that the worst sex scandal in the Catholic Church doesn't involve predatory priests. Rather, it involves the Vatican's hostility to condoms, which is creating more AIDS orphans every day.
Nobody does nobler work throughout the developing world than the Catholic Church. You find priests and nuns in the most remote spots of Latin America and Africa, curing the sick and feeding the hungry, and Catholic Relief Services is a model of compassion.
But at the same time, the Vatican's ban on condoms has cost many hundreds of thousands of lives from AIDS. So when historians look back at the Catholic Church in this era, they'll give it credit for having fought Communism and helped millions of the poor around the world. But they'll also count its anti-condom campaign as among its most tragic mistakes in the first two millennia of its history.
"The Catholic Church helps increase AIDS in the world," said Roseli Tardelli, a Catholic who is editor of the AIDS News Agency in Brazil. She added: "That's wrong. God doesn't like it."
Now that more than 20 million people worldwide have died of AIDS - a toll greater than three Holocausts - there is growing pressure within the church to reconsider its position on condoms.
"If I were pope, I would start a condom factory right in the Vatican," one Brazilian priest told me. "What's the point of sending food and medicine when we let people get infected with AIDS and die?"
In his office, that priest keeps a small framed condom behind glass, with a sign: "In case of emergency, break the glass."
Rosana Soares Ribeiro, the coordinator of a Catholic-run AIDS orphanage in São Paulo, says she feels that it's more important to save lives than to obey church rules. So she tells the H.I.V.-positive teenagers in her care to use condoms when they have sexual relationships.
"My life belongs to God, and God would not want me to allow somebody to be infected with the virus," she said. "So God will forgive my violation of church rules."
The countries that have been most successful in controlling AIDS, such as Thailand, Brazil, Uganda and Cambodia, have all relied in part on condoms to reduce transmission.
The Vatican has horribly undercut the war against AIDS in two ways. First, it has tried to prevent Catholic clinics, charities and churches from giving out condoms or encouraging their use. Second, it argues loudly that condoms don't protect against H.I.V., thus discouraging their use.
In El Salvador, the church helped push through a law requiring condom packages to carry a warning label that they do not protect against AIDS. Since fewer than 4 percent of Salvadoran couples use condoms the first time they have sex, the result will be more funerals.
Fortunately, the Vatican's policies are routinely breached by those charged with carrying them out. In rural Guatemala, I've met Maryknoll sisters who counsel prostitutes to use condoms. In El Salvador, I talked to doctors in a Catholic clinic who explain to patients how condoms can protect against AIDS. In Zimbabwe, I visited a Catholic charity that gave out condoms - until the bishop found out.
"What would Jesus do?" said Didier Francisco Pelaez, a seminarian in São Paulo. "He would save lives. If condoms will save lives, then he would encourage their use."
Even some senior Vatican officials are catching up with reality. One step came when Cardinal Javier Lozano Barrágan, the Vatican's top health official, said last year that condoms might be permissible if a husband had H.I.V. and his wife did not.
I wish the cardinals could meet a 17-year-old Catholic girl in São Paulo named Thais Bispo dos Santos. She is H.I.V.-positive, goes to Mass each Sunday, wants to have an intimate relationship and marry, and feels betrayed by the leaders of the church she loves.
"Because of their age, they should be wiser," she said of the cardinals, adding: "I resent that they don't think of people like me, teenagers with AIDS or H.I.V."
So if Pope Benedict wants to ease human suffering, then there's one simple step he could take that would save vast numbers of lives. He could encourage the use of condoms, if not for contraception, then at least to fight AIDS. That choice between obeying tradition and saving lives is stark, and let's all pray he'll make the courageous choice.