Encomiums are pouring forth in the wake of the Pope’s passing. And there is much to be proud of: his direct approach to the Holocaust, his role in the transition from Communism in Eastern Europe, and his passionate focus on poverty.
But it’s also worth remembering that at a time when the world faced the biggest epidemic since the Black Plague of the 14th century, Pope John Paul II inveighed against condoms – the only known way of stopping AIDS being passed between two people having sex. We can be sure that of the 34 million people who have AIDS today, some of them are Catholics who got the disease because they obeyed the Pope’s injunction not to wear a condom (incidentally, this injunction is almost universally ignored by Italians, who have one of the lowest birthrates in the world).
How many African and Latin American Catholics have AIDS because of the Catholic Church’s anti-AIDS policy? Perhaps hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. Methinks enough that it should feature in any reasonable discussion of the Pope’s legacy. The Catholic Church has a wonderful tradition of social justice. But given what was done on AIDS, I find it hard to take the view that Pope John Paul II left the world a better place.
Update, 13 April: Emily Maguire makes a similar argument in today’s SMH.