Darth Ratzinger

The previous pope was evil too.

In September 1990 he visited the town of Mwanza, in northern Tanzania, and gave a speech.

Tanzania, Uganda and the other countries surrounding Lake Victoria were then at the epicentre of HIV/AIDS, which was beginning its race down Africa’s highways to devastate every corner of the continent. Some nearby villages consisted only of the very old and very young, while rows and rows of wooden crosses marked the graves of others.

So the pope did his bit to help out in this nightmare situation.

He told his audience that condoms, then internationally accepted as the only real way to curtail the spread of the disease, especially in the developing world, were a sin in any circumstances. He lauded family values and praised fidelity and abstinence as the only true ways to combat the disease – seemingly ignorant of many traditional practices such as wives marrying the brothers of deceased husbands, a form of security in countries with no social services. AIDS activists, including many local African Catholics, were appalled. In that one afternoon, they said, the Vatican destroyed more than a decade of patient campaigning. Progress had been painfully slow, but awareness campaigns – with condom use the crucial component – were showing signs of having an effect. Age-old customs and habits were changing.

But then along came this evil, stupid, reckless, destructive, irresponsible, cruel, authoritarian godbothering fool to turn all that around. In that one afternoon, he sentenced whole churches full of women and children to death – and he got away with it. Nobody stopped him; no heavy hand fell on his shoulder; no cop told him to watch his head as he got in the back of the car; no ICC sent out an arrest warrant.

For many, the pope that day in Tanzania sentenced millions of Africans to death. Unabashed, he repeated the same message time and again as he moved on to neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi, countries then suffering an even higher HIV infection rate. “Thabo Mbeki (the former South African president) was pilloried for being an AIDS denialist, but the pope did much more damage and more or less got away with it,” said Godfrey Mubyazi from Tanzania.

And his successor is carrying on the work, and still getting away with it.

After the papal visit, the pandemic gathered pace. By 2010, it is now estimated, there will be 50million orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa, 18 million of whose parents will have died from AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses. Today, more than 28 per cent of African children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In 1990, at the time of the pope’s visit to Tanzania, the figure was 2 per cent…In communities from Lesotho to Liberia, people with wasted, emaciated bodies are waiting to die. Deprived of medical support, they are likely to suffer lonely, painful deaths.

And their children will suffer lonely, hungry lives and then perhaps the same painful deaths. Preventing such a fate for one person would be an obviously good thing to do; increasing the chances of such a fate for one person is an obviously wicked, loathsome thing to do. The pope is still doing his bit to promote illness and death. It’s beyond belief.

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