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Book Shelf - "Catholic Values in the Australian Public Square"

"Catholic Values in the Australian Public Square" by Dr. Joe Santamaria: Connor Court Publishing, $22.95. Reviewed by John Morrissey.

Dr Joe Santamaria's 2014 is a collection of essays on a variety of topics, with further commentary added. The first part, which he labels "Corrupt Science" is an examination of how epidemiology has served a flawed ideology, while the remainder of this publication more accurately reflects its title.

For his starting point, he takes the outrage and ridicule directed at Pope Benedict XVI for stating that condoms are not the solution to the spread of AIDS in Africa.Their widespread use encourages promiscuity and other risky behaviour, through false confidence in the protection which they give. His statement that a change in behaviour is necessary and that money alone - spent on mistaken policies - will not suffice was greeted with derision by the popular press worldwide, and equated with putting outdated Church teaching ahead of human suffering.

Condom confidence is based on a number of studies which Dr Joe shows are flawed. Condoms may have been shown to be effective in studies based on concentrated epidemics, such as in commercial sex in Thailand or identifiable high risk groups such as homosexual men in Western countries, but not on the general epidemic in Southern and Eastern Africa. There, infection is predominantly heterosexual and involves multiple and concurrent partners - "grazing", in the local terminology.

Where studies of condom use have been undertaken, Dr Joe shows, using hypothetical examples, that the populations concerned cannot be assumed identical, that movement of people is necessarily fluid, and that controlled experiments cannot be undertaken. On the other hand, he points to the successful campaigns in Uganda and elsewhere, where funds were devoted to public education promoting "Zero Grazing" and male circumcision, rather than reliance on condoms.

Why these successes have been ignored, Dr Joe attributes to an ideology which cherry-picks research favouring the sexual liberation message dominant in the West. He lists many studies showing the fallacies of such policies in the fight against AIDS, including the work of James Shelton, who lists ten myths concerning the epidemic in Africa: HIV spreads like wildfire; sex work is the problem; men are the problem; adolescents are the problem; poverty and discrimination are the problem; condom use is crucial; HIV testing is the answer; treatment is the answer; new technology is the answer; and sexual behaviour will not change. Each of these Shelton dismantles.

Continuing his thesis concerning the corruption of science, Dr Joe examines drug abuse and evidence-based medicine. Needle exchange programs and their effectiveness against HIV transmission are the subject of this segment, and he does not spare the media and academia. He defends the record of Christianity and particularly the Catholic Church in building Western institutions, and stresses a responsibility for maintaining their integrity in the face of prevailing forces of influence and preferment.

Here also he slaughters the sacred cow of peer review, of which we have heard so much in connection with supporting the threadbare case of the climate change alarmists. We are given the startling information that in all the years of this revered process there has been only a handful of scientifically sound studies of the process itself!

In the second part of this work, the reader is on more familiar ground. Dr Joe begins with an essay written in 2004, commenting on the consternation of the progressive elite at both the Coalition's election win and the appearance in the Senate of a candidate from Family First, and what this represented. The common good, the enduring value of marriage and the natural family, national security - and all based on Christian principles? Dr Joe turns to the wider debate about the place of religion in public life, quoting Archbishop Chaput, exposing the deception of the separation of church and state cry which we hear so often, which seeks to silence Judeo-Christian voices, especially concerning abortion.

Concerning Catholic values in the public square, Dr. Joe reiterates his advice to a Catholic politician in 2010: ".... there is no place for a theocratic or totalitarian ruling class, but there is a place for the public articulation of basic beliefs and the opportunity to debate them publicly without venom or perversion by friend or foe."

In another paper, given in 2010 to a Christian group, Dr Joe defends the natural family, ordained by God and nature, and predating the state. In it he quotes himself, addressing a parents' group 25 years earlier, describing it as 'the ideal setting for the development of … beliefs and virtues because it is the most profound medium for the transmission of true love and the respect of every human individual.' He contrasts this ideal with what the family faces today in a 'secular and materially orientated world, sparkling with irreligious attractions and images and lifestyles.' Normative education is given in a variety of social settings, but he assigns the crucial role to the witness given by parents and others figuring prominently in children's daily lives.

Another brief essay, "Reason and faith in the new millennium", reflects on the charge against the Church that concern for peace, justice and the defence of nature should prevail in her teaching, along with more understanding of modern "subjectivity" concerning life and the family. Dr Joe distils Pope Benedict's response (2006) to insist that "Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible - only then may non-violence be expressed …. Only then can we achieve true justice." He quotes Pope Benedict extensively on the secularisation of Western society, in academia, art, fashion, advertising and sensational journalism.

Other essays convey Dr Joe's thoughts about arguing the existence of God, and theology and Catholic laymen, but his final piece is quite delightful. "A mixed-up Catholic layman" is a response to his publisher's request for an explanation of why Italian migrants generally remain Catholics. Instead of answering the question, he gives us a potted autobiography, reflecting on his family's Aeolian heritage, his education, professional experience and especially the many profoundly influential characters encountered in his long and fruitful life.

John Morrissey is a retired secondary teacher who has worked in government, independent and Catholic schools.

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