"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

More on the Pope and the usual murder charge

A few days ago, I quoted and ridiculed Garry Will's version of the charge that the Pope is guilty of mass murder by refusing to authorize the use of condoms to protect certain people from AIDS. But now a Catholic who lives in Africa, whom I'll call 'CW', has e-mailed me a criticism of my ridicule. I don't know whether CW is African or not; but I doubt that's important. The following consists of what he says and of my reply to it.

CW writes:

I’m surrounded by true AIDS believers, lots who are non-Christian, much less
Catholic. (I’m actually a quiet AIDS doubter.) I imagine one response they would make to your response to Wills is this: “lots of women are being infected by husbands who have sex with prostitutes and such. The Catholic women are getting infected by their husbands because they can’t/won’t/believe they shouldn’t make their husbands use condoms.” I don’t think your argument addresses this, and Wills may be referring to this kind of thing.

I reply:

I have no reason to doubt that many women who get AIDS get it from husbands who got it from prostitutes "and such," which latter presumably means adultery with women or sodomy with men. But let's ask ourselves this: how many married women in Africa (a) know that their husbands have AIDS, (b) believe they should not "make" their husbands wear condoms; and (c) believe that because the Pope says so? If the criticism you cite is correct, such women must be fairly common, granted all around that they are not the majority. But what research is there to support that claim? I haven't heard of any and you don't present the critics as citing any.

In any case, I find it quite difficult to believe that such women are common. If I knew that a wife of mine had AIDS, and knew that AIDS can be transmitted by ordinary marital sex, I would insist on protecting myself by whatever means are necessary. My preferred method would be abstinence because its physical risk is zero and its moral status not in doubt. I would use a condom only if forced to, and I can't imagine being forced to do something like that. But I recognize that I am not a poor African woman married to a man who thinks with the wrong organ. Many such women probably feel themselves to be in too vulnerable a position—physically, financially, or otherwise—to refuse sex to their AIDS-infected husbands, if indeed they know their husbands are infected. But when do they know, if they know? I suspect, though of course I cannot prove, that many Africans don't know that they or their family members are infected until some secondary disease manifests itself, by which time the question of having sex is fairly moot. But if somebody doesn't know her husband is infected, the question is also moot. What do the critics expect: that African women insist their husbands use use condoms until they're AIDS-tested? One can only imagine the effect that would have on many marriages. And in any case, what's all this got to do with the Pope?

No, CW, I still don't take the critics seriously, not at least if their aim is to sustain the charge that the Pope is a mass murderer for misleading some women into believing they have to let themselves be infected with AIDS. Wills is just a Rome-hater; and perhaps some of the "true AIDS believers" you cite are too.
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