Here's a bit of an interview between Garry Wills and a Boston radio interviewer:
[Editor's note: Garry Wills is an author, historian, New York Times contributer, and Catholic critic of Church teachings.]
Wills: There is… a message of life and love in the New Testament. Little of that comes out of Rome now. People are dying of AIDS all around the world now especially in places like Africa and Indonesia now, …when the Pope refuses to allow people to have contraception, he's killing them. He's responsible for murder. This is hardly a gospel of life and love.
Interviewer: You say that Pope Benedict is responsible for murder?
Wills: Sure, sure. More people are more resentful and hateful toward the Catholic Church because of that than because of the sexual molestation problem… sexual molesters are terrible it's… you know here in Boston, but for the most part, not always, but for the most part they didn't kill people. This is killing people on a grand scale, and it's a horrendous scandal, much greater than any sexual molestation scandal.
There's nothing new there, of course, just a fairly typical accusation of murder against a sitting pope by a man who claims to be a faithful Catholic. Let's leave aside the terribly flawed theory of action implied by Wills's accusation and focus instead on the accusation itself, as this seems a common claim made against the Church's prohibition of condoms even to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Often the people who make this accusation are, like Wills, Catholics, and often they will point out in other contexts that no one listens to the Church's views on contraception anyway. So, unless Africans are particularly disposed to listen to the Church's moral teaching on the illicitness of contraception (but not extra or pre-marital sex), it's hard to fathom what influence the Church has on African sexual practices.
But let's not hold Wills and his peers to logic. Let's allow that the African population may be disposed to assent to a teaching Wills and his peers reject. Let's instead turn the argument against them, assuming the strong influence of external “teaching” on African sexual practices and assuming even the loose theory of action, whereby one is responsible for the murder of others because of what you say they should or should not do.
Wills says the Church is responsible for murder in Africa because it denies condoms to men who have AIDS and who through their sexual practices spread AIDS to women and children. But why are these men and women engaging in dangerous sex? Why, in the United States, are homosexual men choosing to engage in increasingly dangerous forms of sex?
In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II puts God's question to Cain “What have you done?” to us, to make us “realize the extent and gravity of the attacks against life which continue to mark human history; to make [us] discover what causes these attacks and feeds them…” What have we done, in other words, to facilitate and foster violence against our brothers and sisters, against our neighbor? He adds, “What of the spreading of death caused by… the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve great risks to life?” (EV 10) What have we done, that is, to contribute to this?
And that is the prior question which Wills and his peers fear to ask, because while pointing a finger at the Church for her stance on contraception causes no social consternation and even wins one points in the public square, the real question, “What have you done?” remains. We know what we, what our culture that is, has done: it has promoted sexual license to our children and it has promoted sexual license globally with the carrot and sticks of UN diplomacy. If we're interested not in identifying murderers, but the “spreading of death,” then let us ask ourselves the hard question first.
Joseph Capizzi is Fellow in Religion for the Culture of Life Foundation and Associate Professor of Religion at Catholic University of America.