Pope Francis says we can’t address AIDS epidemic until we eradicate poverty

Once again, Pope Francis had a chance to live up to that progressive label liberals have forced on him in the United States. And once again, Pope Francis reminded us both that he can’t be placed on the American ideological spectrum, and that he remains a keenly political actor.

Asked by a reporter if he would change Catholic doctrine concerning contraception following a trip to sub-Saharan Africa in advance of World AIDS Day, Pope Francis demurred, saying only that it was “morally complicated for the Church” — one [issue] with too many technical details to go into at the time. Furthermore, he added, questions on the subject seemed too “small” and “partial” compared with the far greater threats posed by, say, economic inequality. As he put it, “I don’t like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don’t have water or food or housing.”

As the Guardian explained, “Francis has previously signaled that he doesn’t want to get drawn into culture war issues over contraception or abortion, and his response Monday was very much in line with such comments.”

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

An estimated 22 million people in Africa are infected with HIV. Poverty is bad, but so is a deadly epidemic. Believe it or not, multiple bad things can exist at the same time. They can even interact with each other!

Pope Francis had already disappointed LGBT activists both in and out of Africa for failing to speak out against the numerous anti-gay laws on the books in countries around the continent. Dismissing the AIDS epidemic as a matter of relativism isn’t going to help him dig out of this hole. As one of the most trusted moral authorities on the planet, it is the height of irresponsibility for him to say that we have to put all moral considerations on hold until the worst of the worst issues are completely resolved. That isn’t how morality works, and that sure as hell isn’t how politics or public policy works.

This is an especially callous and misleading dodge since Pope Francis can do a whole lot more in the immediate future to stem the spread of AIDS than he can to eradicate poverty. All it would take is for him to drop the Catholic Church’s insistence that AIDS, while bad, is not as bad as condoms. If he can take five minutes out of his day to merely say those words, then he can get back to campaigning for an end to global poverty and climate change. And I’ll be right there with him as he does so, even if he makes some wacky arguments on his way to reaching the right answers on those issues.

Until then, his perpetuation of Catholic dogma that has directly contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among people who treat the Church as a direct line to God can be seen as nothing short of wicked.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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