|Pope Benedict XVI addressed the themes of peace, reconciliation and justice in his roadmap for Africa [Reuters]|
Pope Benedict XVI has called AIDS an “ethical problem” that needs a medical solution, backtracking from his earlier position that blamed condoms for spreading the pandemic.
“The problem of AIDS in particular clearly calls for a medical and a pharmaceutical response,” said a 135-page document that the pontiff unveiled as his church’s vision for Africa on Saturday after arriving a day earlier in the West African nation of Benin.
“This is not enough however. The problem goes deeper. Above all, it is an ethical problem.”
Benedict, who was greeted by thousands in the nation considered a Catholic bastion and voodoo heartland, also condemned corruption during the visit, his second on the continent since he was appointed head of the Catholic Church in 2005.
The Catholic Church’s position on AIDS and the use of condoms has long been controversial and carefully scrutinised, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 70 per cent of the world’s HIV cases.
Benedict’s comments on his first African trip to Cameroon and Angola in 2009 caused a global outcry when he suggested condom distribution had aggravated the AIDS crisis.
In a book published last year, however, the 84-year-old pontiff said that condom use is acceptable “in certain cases”, notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
“These are important issues for the world in general, but they take on a particular urgency in Africa,” said the pontiff, speaking on Friday at the basilica in the city of Ouidah where he signed the roadmap.
“We need but recall the tensions, the acts of violence, the wars, the injustices and abuses of all sorts, new and old, which have marked this year.”
On Saturday, Benedict addressed the issue of corruption, saying it could lead to violent upheaval; and called on African leaders not to rob citizens of hope.
“At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death,” he said in a speech at Benin’s presidential palace.
“These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world. Every people wishes to understand the political and economic choices which are made in its name. They perceive manipulation and their revenge is sometimes violent.”
He added later in the speech before politicians, religious leaders and diplomats: “From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present!”
He also seemed to make reference to uprisings in the Arab world and spoke of the independence of South Sudan, Africa’s newest nation.
“During recent months, many peoples have manifested their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions,” he said.
“Indeed, a new state has been born on your continent. Many conflicts have originated in man’s blindness, in his will to power and in political and economic interests which mock the dignity of people and of nature. Human beings aspire to liberty.”
The audience for the speech in the economic capital Cotonou included voodoo chiefs who also heard the pontiff call for inter-religious dialogue to take place without improper fusion of beliefs. Catholicism and voodoo beliefs often mix in Benin.
Benedict is on a three-day trip to the country that ends on Sunday.