Pope Benedict XVI told African bishops Friday he shares their concerns about the devastation caused by AIDS on the continent. But he stuck with traditional church doctrine in advocating abstinence as what he called the only "fail-safe" way to prevent the spread of the virus.
For the pope, abstinence from sex and not the use of condoms is the best way to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. Pope Benedict left no doubt as to the best way to deal with what he called the "cruel epidemic," which has shattered so many lives on the African continent.
He said the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, abstaining from sex, has proven the only "fail-safe" way to prevent the spread of the virus. And he urged the church in Africa to always present to the faithful the joy and peace that Christian marriage and fidelity provides, and the safeguard, which chastity gives.
The pope was addressing the bishops of South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho, who met with him in the Vatican, as part of a customary visit, which takes place every five years.
The pope said the Catholic Church has always been at the forefront, both in the prevention and in the treatment of AIDS. He urged African bishops to continue in their efforts to fight the spread of the virus, which he said, not only kills, but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent.
Pope Benedict XVI also noted that family life has always been a unifying characteristic of African society. But, he added, divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and what he called a "contraceptive mentality" are threatening the family. All of these, he said, contribute to a breakdown of sexual morality.
The pope encouraged African bishops to continue to promote the noble values of the African tradition of the family. He also urged them to conscientiously select candidates for the priesthood, and adequately train them to ensure they are well prepared for the many challenges they will face.
A world filled with temptations, the pope said, needs priests who are totally dedicated to their mission. Pope Benedict XVI added that priests must be prepared to embrace celibacy, and bishops must assist them to ensure this never becomes a burden.