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No Restraint Necessary

NBC used Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments about AIDS and condoms in Africa to bash traditional Catholic teaching on the matter as “a dangerous doctrinaire vision” during the March 19 “Today” broadcast.


Benedict recently stated “It's a tragedy, this question of AIDS that cannot be overcome by money alone and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problem.”


NBC correspondent Dawna Friesen summed up Benedict's statements as “Pope Benedict told reporters the problem of AIDS can only be solved by spiritual renewal.”


Friesen also cited unnamed critics who stated the Pope's comments “risk making his church increasingly irrelevant” and reported that health officials in France, Belgium and Germany “bluntly” say “condoms save lives.”


Today apparently couldn't find anyone to present and defend Catholic teaching with regard birth control and condom-use.


Friesen also ignored the single most dramatic success story of AIDS prevention in Africa. When the Ungandan government stopped depending solely on condoms to stem the AIDS epidemic and instead implemented a campaign called ABC (Abstain or Be Faithful, or use Condoms). the HIV rate plummeted.


Rev. Sam L. Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, noted in a June 30, 2008 Washington Post op-ed explained, “We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful.”  As a result of urging faithfulness, Ruteikara noted, “The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002.” 


In other words, Uganda applied this “dangerous doctrinaire vision” of traditional sexual morality and found that it worked.


On the other hand, according to Ruteikara advocating condom use has done nothing to save lives. “Condom promotions have failed in Africa, mostly because fewer than 5 percent of people use condoms consistently with regular partners.”


Yet proponents of condoms as the sole answer to the AIDS crisis fail to see beyond their own limited ideology. Ruteikara detailed  :


PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for HIV – AIDS Relief] calls for Western experts to work as equal partners with African leaders on AIDS prevention. But as co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS-Prevention Committee, I have seen this process sabotaged. Repeatedly, our 25-member prevention committee put faithfulness and abstinence into the National Strategic Plan that guides how PEPFAR money for our country will be spent. Repeatedly, foreign advisers erased our recommendations. When the document draft was published, fidelity and abstinence were missing.


As a result, according Rueikara, “Uganda's HIV rates have begun to tick back up.”


Friesen is not the only mainstream journalist to call out Pope Benedict for daring to suggest that a return to sexual faithfulness and restraint could save lives. As noted by Matthew Balan at Newsbusters, CNN's Jack Cafferty intoned, “it is past time for the Catholic Church to enter the 21st century, or at least try to drag itself out of the 13th century.”


Ken Shepherd, also over at Newsbusters, reported how Bonnie Erbe, host of PBS' “To the Contrary” and a contributing editor at U.S News & World Report, ranted about Benedict being “horrifically ignorant” when it comes to HIV/AIDS.


Is unfettered condom use so important to the mainstream media that it's willing to ignore the fact that traditional morality does have its place in the modern world?


The full transcript of Friesen's report as it aired at 8:02 AM EDT is below:


NATALIE MORALES: Pope Benedict's visit to Africa has set off a storm of controversy. He's being widely criticized for saying that distributing condoms is increasing the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent. We get more from NBC's Dawna Friesen.


DAWNA FRIESEN: It's his first trip to Africa as Pope. Nowhere else in the world is the Catholic Church growing faster with millions hanging on his every word, he dropped a bombshell. On the papal plane Pope Benedict told reporters the problem of AIDS can only be solved by spiritual renewal.


POPE BENEDICT THROUGH TRANSLATOR: It's a tragedy, this question of AIDS that cannot be overcome by money alone and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.


FRIESEN: AIDS campaigners in Africa are outraged, one calling the Pope's remarks, “alienating, ignorant and pernicious,” and warning his stance could cost lives. Condemnation too from France, Belgium and Germany. The health ministers there saying bluntly condoms save lives and the Pope's views represent a dangerous doctrinaire vision. But it's a vision the Catholic Church has always held and this controversy is unlikely to change anything.


ROBERT NOWELL, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS JOURNALIST: I think that he'll sort of smile sweetly and take this as part of the price he pays for doing the job he's doing.


FRIESEN: Spreading a message he believes in but critics say risking making his church increasingly irrelevant. Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.



Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.