I think the Pope will realise in a couple of months that he made a mistake by changing a simple message to a complicated one. A message that he fortunately won’t be able to restore. And this is why.
This afternoon I sat for a few moments in a conference on family planning in Nigeria. The opening of the conference was done by singing the national anthem and having an opening prayer. The first was flawless (I was told they have practiced it every day in school during their youth, followed by a pledge), the second was a bit more contentious. The Christians in the room stood up for the prayer, the Muslims however remained seated. There were whispers after this – as it was not really appreciated. Later on I heard that the closing prayer might be done by a Muslim, and the Christians will probably remain seated then. I won’t be there to witness it, but it gave a brief insight on contemporary socio-religious dynamics in Nigerian society.
Back to the Christians only, or the Roman Catholics to be precise. I can’t give you an exact number of Catholics in Nigeria. Proper census numbers are unavailable or not really reliable as the percentage of adherents to a religion are contentious as well due to the political climate. Let’s say though there are a fare number of Roman Catholics in Nigeria, highest estimate being 25 million.
All of these Catholics have heard the same simple message for years, no condoms. Pretty simple message, easy to communicate (just no condems!), with amazingly bad and complicated consequences (I could name probably 25 million ones, but if you have trouble imagining it, just think HIV/AIDs, unwanted pregnancy etc). This week however the Pope has started to change his mind on the message and made it more complicated. Recognizing that condoms can prevent HIV/AIDS and it should be available to male sex workers as this would be ‘a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more humane sexuality.’ In other words, it’s okay for male sex workers to use condoms as they can prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS then.
So he has not totally changed his message, as he mentions nothing about it being an effective contraceptive for all men and women to use. He also says more on morality etc. Funny thing is though, that is not what I heard this afternoon and this is where the Pope’s mistake has started.
After the opening statement a gentleman of high stature took the floor and said: ‘We have to congratulate ourselves, the Pope finally recognises the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS,’ followed by enthusiastic clapping of the audience. He said more and went on that it’s good to know the Pope acknowledges the fact that condoms are effective contraceptives. Something the rest of humanity has known, since the first century where the Chinese and Japanese made condoms out of a mixture of tortoise shell and oil (no, I didn’t know that either).
I don’t like to see people make mistakes, but this one I can live with and actually is a mistake that I am very happy about. For the simple reason that for once people’s ability to only half hear or half understand a complicated message might just work for their own benefit. Because like the whispers of the seated Muslims, people will whisper with the same enthusiasm…did you hear? The Pope says it’s okay to use condoms. Try to stop that.
PS If you really want to learn about what the Pope said check out Catholics for Choice. They have been working on this for years for which I can only applaud them.