When Pope Benedict XVI was flying to Cameroon on March 17, he responded to a reporter who asked him to address -- in French -- the argument that the Catholic vision for fighting AIDS "is often considered unrealistic and ineffective."
The pope's answer was both charitable and candid, reflecting the Catholic view that sex outside of marriage and artificial birth control are always wrong.
It is worth noting, incidentally, that to the degree a society lives by these principles -- even if only for practical reasons -- venereal disease diminishes.
So, what did the pope say?
According to an English-language transcript posted by the Vatican, the pope first mentioned certain Catholic institutions that care for AIDS patients, and then said: "I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help (by responsible behavior), the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics. On the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality -- that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving toward others -- and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practice self-denial, to be alongside the suffering."
The Associated Press instantly issued a report datelined "Aboard the Papal Plane."
"Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that the distribution of condoms is not the answer in the fight against AIDS in Africa," reported AP. "'You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms,' the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon. 'On the contrary, it increases the problem.'"
Almost as instantly, the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual-rights group, responded through Harry Knox, director of its Religion and Faith Program.
Now, Knox could have simply stated his contrary belief that condoms are indeed the answer to AIDS. But, instead, he issued an ad hominem attack, accusing the pope of "hurting people in the name of Jesus" and "morally reprehensible" behavior.
"The pope's statement that condoms don't help control the spread of HIV, but rather condoms increase infection rates, is hurting people in the name of Jesus," said Knox in a statement posted on HRC's Website. "On a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV, it is morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods. The pope's rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community. Jesus was about helping the marginalized and downtrodden, not harming them further."
In December, the church declined to support a U.N. resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality because the resolution also equated all sexual orientations, a provision the church believed could be used to pressure nations into legalizing same-sex marriage.
Knox accused the church in this instance of signaling that violence against homosexuals was acceptable.
"By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable," he wrote.
He called the church's position an "immoral stance in the name of religion."
In 2007, when a Catholic bishop in Wyoming decided a lesbian couple promoting same-sex marriage should not receive communion, Knox accused the church of "insulting" Jesus.
"In this holy Lenten season, it is immoral and insulting to Jesus to use the body and blood of Christ the reconciler as a weapon to silence free speech and demean the love of a committed, legally married couple," Knox said in an HRC statement. He added that the HRC was grieving "over this act of spiritual and emotional violence perpetrated against" the lesbian couple.
On March 17, the same day he attacked the pope for "hurting people in the name of Jesus," Knox told the Bay Area Reporter that in supporting California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, the Knights of Columbus had "'followed discredited leaders,' including bishops and Pope Benedict XVI."
Three weeks later, on April 6, President Obama named Knox to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
That day, Knox told Fred Lucas of CNSNews.com that he "absolutely" stood by his comments to the Bay Area Reporter. On April 15, White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Lucas the White House would not comment on Knox's comments to the Bay Area Reporter.
Is virulent anti-Catholicism no bar to serving in the administration of President Barack Obama? It appears so.