When the house is burning it is best not to pour oil on the flames. But on his first visit to Africa Pope Benedict XVI seemed to have little regard for conventional wisdom. At the outset of his trip he lobbed not just a bottle but a whole can of oil into an already explosive situation.

There are those on the more conservative wings of the Church who praise his courage for reiterating Roman Catholic teaching on the subject of contraception within the context of the terrible scourge of HIV/AIDS on the African continent.

But there are also those who can feel only sadness that once again Pope Benedict has chosen to speak out rather than to quietly empathize with those in physical and spiritual need, whether in Africa or elsewhere.

This Pope now has a long record of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Predictably enough he and his closest advisors, like all celebrities, blame the media, saying that he has been quoted out of context, that what he said has been distorted, that he has been misunderstood.

This might happen once (in the case of his infamous Regensburg address which angered many Muslims), maybe even twice (when he upset Jews as well as some of his clergy and faithful by reaching out to an excommunicated bishop who has denied the existence of the Holocaust), but when the pattern continues it is a sign that there is something wrong.

It should be clear enough in this era of the mass media that any papal pronouncement needs the expertise of a sensitive communicator. There are many wonderful examples in the Roman Catholic Church but Pope Benedict