The Pope Spreads AIDS

The Holy Father is responsible for the deaths of thousands

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 7th October 1999.

The evidence stacking up against Pope Pius XII is compelling. The man who claimed to be the friend of the persecuted now emerges as an active Nazi collaborator. John Cornwell, a Catholic historian who had hoped to clear Pius’s name by examining the Vatican’s archive, has discovered instead that the pope helped Hitler to stamp out opposition in the German Church. He disbanded the Catholic Centre Party (one of Hitler’s main impediments), encouraged priests to “certify” converted Jews and helped persuade the Catholic Prime Minister to form an alliance with the Nazis. In response to these revelations, the Vatican, as if to prove that it inhabits another planet, has announced that it will proceed with its plans to declare Pope Pius XII a saint.

But, close as Pius’s association with the Holocaust might have been, he is unlikely to have been directly responsible for as many deaths as the man who now sits in his place. John Paul II, the Holy Father and Angelic Shepherd, God’s representative on earth and the only living person who is officially and constitutionally infallible is a mass murderer.

Every year the Pope kills tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people by the simple expedient of forbidding Catholics to use condoms. While his imprecations are dismissed by most churchgoers in the First World as a load of papal bull, in countries in which there is little access to alternative sources of information and in which women have few rights, every papal decree against contraception sentences thousands to a lingering death.

There’s no question that the Pope sympathises with the victims of AIDS. In Italy he has hugged AIDS patients in public. In San Francisco, he kissed an HIV-positive baby. He has urged sufferers to “feel Jesus at your side, and through your hope bear witness to the life-giving power of his Cross.” Unfortunately, however, he has exercised the power of the cross only to spread death.

Teaching people about safe sex, the Vatican says, is “a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS.” Sex education, “above all in relation to the spread of AIDS” is an “abuse”. In 1995, when a French bishop suggested that people infected with HIV should use condoms, the Pope promptly sacked him. Last month the Vatican used its seat at the UN General Assembly (where, preposterously, it has national status) to disrupt, yet again, the UN’s family planning and AIDS prevention programmes.

There are 122 million Catholics in Africa. Whenever the Pope visits them he explains that the only acceptable form of family planning is strict sexual abstinence. He told the Nigerians that exploiting the poor and ignorant is “a crime against God’s work.” But every year he exploits the poor and ignorant by preaching against the condom.

Many of Africa’s Catholic bishops know that the Pope’s position is absurd, and quietly, privately, they have tried to undermine it. But they are also keenly aware that, unlike dioceses in prosperous countries, they are almost entirely dependent on the Vatican for funding. They know that they and their churches will survive only if, in public, they do precisely as they are told. So in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, some of the countries with the biggest AIDS problems on earth, prominent bishops have insisted that condoms should not be worn. Some, who share the Pope’s views, go further, and suggest that condoms spread AIDS by selectively leaking the virus.

Every time the bishops speak out, they reverse years of awareness raising (often, paradoxically, by Catholic charities and local churches) about AIDS and how to prevent it. Men looking for an excuse to practice unsafe sex seize on the Church’s teachings. People who do use condoms deny it, ensuring that the safe sex message spreads more slowly than the disease.

The Pope’s position reflects not only a fundamentalist interpretation of the laws of God. Like Pius XII, he insists on total political control. Autocratic, backward-looking, both popes have sheathed themselves in ecclesiatical mythology, an infallible barrier to impregnation by reality.

The Vatican wants to celebrate the year 2000 by canonising Pius XII for helping the oppressed. A better way to mark the millennium would surely be the indictment of John Paul II for crimes against humanity.