We asked HIV/AIDS awareness activist Sheryl Lee Ralph to weigh in on the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI on preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa, and here’s what she had to say:
Pope Benedict needs to get real. Does he really think that encouraging our people in Africa to have protected sex with the use of condoms promotes risky sexual behavior and infidelity? Yes, he’s the Pope but he sounds more like a pope-itician to me if he believes that my people in Africa don’t need to use condoms. Clearly, he’s stuck in a time warp of ancient thinking when churchfolk were encouraged from a position of power not to use condoms so that more babies were born into that particular faith. He’s living in a much different world and he’s not in touch with the people and what’s going on in this world as we know it. This is the same man who also wants to believe that the killing of the Jews didn’t happen in World War II, so what do you expect him to say? This is the same man whose religion has forgiven some atrocities that most of us think, How do you forgive something like that and call yourself a man of God? If he were to look into some of the men that work within his religion, we know for a fact that a few of them need to use condoms. Some people can only hear their side of the story and I say to them: “When you can clean up your own backyard, then you can help someone else with theirs.”
If I could have a sit-down with the Pope, it would give me tremendous hope and I’d thank him for his kind invitation to engage in a serious dialogue. I’ve been to Africa and listened to women who know their husbands are infected with HIV/AIDS yet continue to have unprotected sex with them simply because “he’s my husband.” So it’s not about discarding people’s religious beliefs or being judgmental about Catholicism, but our people in Africa absolutely need to wear condoms. Whenever an institution should be choosing to speak up about a grave issue such as HIV/AIDS in Africa, they shut up. What I’ve learned is that just like one condom doesn’t fit all, one message does not fit all. We must all learn to be culturally, spiritually and humanly sensitive to everyone’s needs. We know what can happen when things are cloaked in silence; it makes bad things grow and that’s why HIV/AIDS has taken root in our communities and society, because we don’t say enough, because we don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, because they shoot the messenger, and that is just so sad.
Come back tomorrow for Ralph’s thoughts on the alarming AIDS stats in D.C.
Sheryl Lee Ralph’s views and statements do not reflect those of ESSENCE.com or ESSENCE magazine.