ROME, OCT. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI caused a media storm on his way to Africa in March by saying that condoms are not the solution to AIDS. An African cardinal, the relator-general of the synod of bishops on Africa that is under way, brought the same storm a few days ago, reiterating the same point.
In the context of this turmoil, ZENIT spoke with Doctor Renzo Puccetti and Cesare Cavoni, a bioethics professor, who are in the process of publishing their book "Il Papa ha ragione! L'Aids non si ferma con il condom" (The Pope Is Right: AIDS Is Not Stopped With Condoms).
Puccetti contended that the accounts of Cardinal Peter Turkson's statements can be classified as "the umpteenth case of distortion of the message."
"In the first place, the cardinal did not make a moral evaluation of the issue; at the same time, in his statements, he said nothing against the constant moral teaching of the Church," the doctor affirmed.
He added, "When the president of Uganda gave a green light to the ABC -- Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condom -- strategy, which was very effective in combating the AIDS epidemic and was later taken as a model with the same success in other African countries, he said rather similar things to what the cardinal said: Life cannot be put at stake entrusting it to a fine coat of latex."
Yes or no
Puccetti acknowledged that it is not easy to give a categorical answer to the question of whether the condom serves to stop AIDS.
"It isn't easy to answer categorically," he said, "but if I must say that the condom serves to halt AIDS in generalized epidemics, the answer I can give according to the body of available scientific knowledge is 'no.'"
For the condom to work, the doctor continued, "man would have to be not much different than a rat in a cage in which, before each copulation, someone dons the condom. In that case, the condom might be useful."
"But as man is not a rat, does not live in cages and there are no professionals ready to burden him with the condom, one must not be surprised then that the theoretical efficacy does not occur on the spot in real life," Puccetti added.
The authors explained their book stems from a "sad verification" that the media often "deforms" the facts.
"The book stems from this sadness and, also, from the anger of seeing fundamental principles of correct information trampled," Cavoni said. "At the same time we felt it an imperative to give the public the facts as they occurred and, in some way, open the eyes of public opinion, so that it does not take as fine gold clumsy instrumentalizations, perpetrated by ideological motives, superficiality, or both factors."
"The reading of the book makes extremely evident the progressive distortion of the message, including additions, omissions, substitutions," Puccetti added. "[...] In the second part of the book, we summarized as best we could the gamut of knowledge offered by the international scientific literature in regard to the clinical application of prevention through promoting the use of the condom.
"We have paid special attention to the numbers, because we believe they can be the basis for a shared discussion outside the religious orientation."
Ears to hear
Cavoni contended that the media uproar in March can be attributed to false information.
"All the major national and international newspapers launched themselves, directly or indirectly, against the Pontiff, guilty of having said that condoms do not resolve the problems in Africa but rather aggravate them," Cavoni recalled. "The criticisms were escalated the moment the most ferocious observations arrived on the part of several European government exponents, including the resolution of the Belgian Parliament that requested that the Pope deny what he had affirmed.
"The fact is that one presumes that whoever takes such strong positions, knows what the Pope really said, but it wasn't like this. All were talking but few had listened. So much so that, subsequently, many scientists confirmed the concepts Benedict XVI expressed."
The author lamented that it still holds true: People believe what they hear on TV or read in the newspaper.
"The media acquires a very powerful principle of authority," he said. "If, therefore, things, events, the news presented are based on partial reconstructions or bits of reality, the reader will receive the gift of a deformed reality, which does not correspond to the truth. With this technique one can even create a virtual reality parallel to the real one. [...]
"We are not speaking of a nebulous objectivity, of impartiality. No, we are talking about the fact that I must be present on the scene of the event about which I write. And if this isn't possible, given that in the specific case, not all journalists can be in the Pontiff's entourage, at least I must take the trouble to listen again, word for word, to what the Pope really said and why he said it.
"Instead, many trusted what they heard being said about an initial, incorrect text. The rest is the typical story of misinformation."
[With information from Antonio Gaspari]