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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Withdraw The Pope's Invitation to Live8: He has Harmed Africa

Sun, 5th June 2005

The invitation that has been issued to the Pope to attend the Live8 event in Rome has been condemned by the National Secular Society, which says it will create a counter campaign of protest against the Vatican’s involvement, given its record on obstructing the use of condoms to combat AIDS – a huge cause of poverty and suffering in Africa.

In an open letter to Bob Geldof, the NSS says that the Vatican’s intransigent ban on the use of condoms to protect against AIDS — the only known barrier to the spread of HIV — has led to a catastrophic increase in the prevalence of the disease that threatens to destroy some countries and further impoverish others in Africa and elsewhere. The ban is fully supported by the present Pope.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: "Inviting the present Pope to Live8 would be a slap in the face for all those currently working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa. AIDS is destroying lives, communities and, ultimately, will destroy whole nations for generations to come unless greater efforts are made to check it. The Vatican, in the meantime, actively obstructs the distribution of condoms and discourages their use by promulgating lies about HIV being able to pass through them. To invite the Pope, who has supported and reinforced this inhumane policy, to an event aimed at combating poverty through protest, verges on an obscenity. The invitation must be withdrawn immediately.

"Bob Geldof could make one big difference to the plight of Africa by demanding that the Pope immediately lift restrictions on the use of condoms. If he does not, then the million marchers ought to converge on Vatican City to condemn the Pope’s intransigence."

"We acknowledge that many of those working on poverty relief are Catholic themselves and are doing excellent work, but their hands are being tied by their own hierarchy."

Mr Porteous Wood said that "if the Vatican accepted the invitation, the National Secular Society would do its best to ensure that everyone who is contemplating joining Live8 is made aware of the shameful part the Pope and his predecessor have played in the spread of AIDS in Africa."

"Involving religion in this event — especially one very controversial element of one particular religion — will change the nature of the protest. Live8 must be for everyone – it must not be hijacked by one particularly inappropriate religious personality." Ends (Text of letter follows below)


To Bob Geldof

Dear Bob Geldof,

We are horrified to hear that the organisers of Live8 have invited the Pope to attend this event in Rome. We urge you to encourage the organisers to withdraw it.

This event should not become a religious jamboree dominated by any religion. Of even more concern is that the Pope stands accused in many quarters of doing almost more than any other individual on the planet to increase poverty and suffering in Africa.

His intransigent opposition to the use of condoms to fight AIDS is a scandal of epic proportions. The Vatican’s much publicised fallacy that HIV can pass through the rubber of condoms — a lie so blatant and so cruel that it almost beggars belief — has never been withdrawn, despite the World Health Organisation and prominent scientists repeatedly contradicting it.

AIDS is devastating Africa. Condoms are the only known barrier to the virus. The Vatican has spearheaded the restriction of condom distribution and actively discouraged their use. The scale of the deaths from AIDS in Africa is so great that the working generations in some African countries have already all but disappeared, so these countries are now incapable of recovering for at least a generation.

Instead of lauding the Pope, you should be accusing him; instead of inviting him to be feted, you should be organising a march on Vatican City with a clear demand that this ban on condoms must be lifted. Prominent Catholic theologians have said that it is possible to justify the use of condoms to save lives, that a smaller "evil" may be necessary to prevent a much bigger evil.

We call on you to withdraw this invitation immediately, and to make a demand on Pope Benedict XVI that he demonstrates some mercy on the children of Africa in a tangible way by changing this inhumane doctrine. It is well within his power to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director

Published Sun, 05 Jun 2005