Toll Among Priests
Catholic Priests and A.I.D.S. Epidemic
High AIDS Toll Among Priests
Has Been Obscured, Paper
January 31, 2000
KANSAS CITY, Mo.--AIDS has killed hundreds of Roman
Catholic priests in the United States although other
causes may be listed on their death certificates, the
Kansas City Star reported yesterday.
The newspaper reported that its examination of death
certificates and interviews with experts indicated several
hundred priests had died of AIDS-related illnesses since
the mid-1980s and hundreds have the AIDS virus. The
death rate of priests from AIDS is at least four times that
of the general population, the newspaper said.
Bishop Raymond J. Boland of the Diocese of Kansas
City-St. Joseph said the deaths show that priests are
human: "Much as we would regret it, it shows that human
nature is human nature."
Six of 10 priests responding on confidential questionnaires
from the newspaper said they knew of at least one priest
who had died of an AIDS-related illness and one-third knew
a priest living with AIDS.
The paper cited the case of Bishop Emerson J. Moore, who
left the Archdiocese of New York in 1995 and went to
Minnesota, where he died in a hospice of an AIDS-related
illness. His death certificate attributed the death to
"unknown natural causes" and listed his occupation as
After an AIDS activist filed a complaint, officials changed
the cause of death to "HIV-related illness," the paper
reported, but the occupation was not corrected.
The newspaper said the death
rate among priests from AIDS appears to be at least four
times that of the rate for the general U.S. population. Some
priests and behavioral experts believe the church has scared
priests into silence by treating homosexual acts as an
abomination and the breaking of celibacy vows as shameful,
the Star said.
Catholic cardinals in the
United States and high-ranking church officials in the
Vatican declined requests to discuss the newspaper's
findings, The Star reported. The Vatican referred questions
to local bishops. Bishop Raymond Boland of the Diocese of
Kansas City-St. Joseph said the AIDS deaths show that
priests are human.
"Much as we would regret it, it
shows that human nature is human nature," he said. "And all
of us are heirs to all of the misfortunes that can be
foisted upon the human race."
New Study Finds Catholic
Priests Dying From AIDS at Higher Than Expected Rate
According to a study following
a January report on Catholic priests dying of AIDS, the
Kansas City Star has found that the AIDS-related death rate
among priests "exceeds earlier estimates." The Star reported
in a three-part series in January that "hundreds of priests
had died of AIDS-related illnesses and that hundreds more
were living with the virus that causes the disease."
Follow-up research, based on
death certificates and interviews with family members, found
an additional 300 AIDS-related priest deaths nationwide.
However, researchers were unable to count AIDS-related
deaths in the nearly two-thirds of states that do not
disclose death records, and experts say that the "exact AIDS
death toll among U.S. priests will never be known." In the
14 states that allowed the Star to access death records, the
paper found that the AIDS-related death rate among priests
was "more than double" the rate among all adult males in
those states and more than six times the rate among the
general population in those states. The Star reports that
these rates "exceeded the estimates and projections reported
earlier this year by the newspaper," and the follow-up
investigation reveals that "there is no longer any question
that hundreds of priests have died of AIDS and that many
bishops were aware of their plights."
The new study has sparked
further controversy surrounding the relationship between
priests, who are required to be celibate, and AIDS (Thomas,
Kansas City Star, 11/4).
An op-ed to the Star by Rev.
Patrick Rush, the vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of
Kansas City-St. Joseph, states that the paper's conclusions
"are not consistent with the experience of our local
diocese: not the death rate, not the silence and not the
denial." He added, "The Star's continued reporting on the
subject of priests with AIDS sadly misses the point. Any
death from HIV/AIDS is a tragedy. ... It is a problem for us
all" (Rush, Kansas City Star, 11/6).
But advocates cite the report
as evidence that the Catholic Church needs to further
address the issue.
Eugene Kennedy, former priest
and biographer of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of
Chicago, said, "The fact that you have priests having very
active sexual lives, that you have priests contracting HIV
and dying of AIDS and that they have refused to come to
terms with this and tend to deny it, I don't see how you
look at this and not say that these are symptoms of an
unresolved sexual problem within the church."
Sister Mary Ann Walsh,
spokesperson for the Conference of Bishops, said the church
"had been active in dealing with the AIDS issue and that
seminary formation programs today are doing a better job of
educating priests about sexuality issues."
Examples of recent efforts to
address sexual issues and AIDS within the church include:
The National Federation of
Priests' Councils is "updating" a 93-page document about
AIDS. It now provides direction on how dioceses and
religious orders should "deal with" HIV-positive priests and
whether priest candidates should be tested for HIV.
The National Conference of
Catholic Bishops, originally one of the study's "harshest
critics," is endorsing a "major study" to look at problems
priests face in their first five years after ordination.
Dean Hoge, the study's principal investigator, said that the
topics of sexuality and celibacy will be addressed.
The Church of England revealed
this year that at least 25% of its priests had died of
AIDS-related illnesses, and in September mandated that all
Anglican bishops in southern Africa undergo HIV testing.
Root of the Problem
Through interviews with
priests, AIDS experts, doctors, psychologists and educators,
the Star found a general consensus that more education and
communication is needed to curb the "tragedy of priests
dying of AIDS."
Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of
America magazine, a national Jesuit publication, cited the
biggest issue as the "silence surrounding ... gay priests."
Reese said, "The silence highlights a tension in a church
that defines homosexuality as 'intrinsically disordered' but
relies on many gay men to celebrate the sacraments and carry
out the work of the church."
Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and
Boston physician who specializes in AIDS, lamented the fact
that the Vatican discourages open discussions on sexuality,
considers homosexual relations a sin and opposes "modern
practice" of safe sex.
However, the church has not
entirely ignored the AIDS epidemic and has served as a
"major provider of AIDS services" in San Francisco,
according to the Rev. Jim Mitulski, co-pastor of
Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, a
"predominantly gay congregation." Mitulski said, "It's
compassion that comes with a price tag. ... The irony is,
here's this institution that does have a heart for sick
people, but at the same time, it's fostering a climate where
HIV continues to be spread" (Kansas City Star, 11/4).
| June 03, 2002
has quietly caused the deaths of hundreds of
Roman Catholic priests in the United States
although other causes may be listed on some
of their death certificates, the Kansas City
Star reported today. The newspaper said its
examination of death certificates and
interviews with experts indicates several
hundred priests have died of AIDS-related
illnesses since the mid-1980s. The death
rate of priests from AIDS is at least four
times that of the general population, the
newspaper said. Kansas City Bishop Raymond
Boland says the AIDS deaths show that
priests are human.
Astonishing, when you think about it. The
paragraph above comes from an Associated
Press report on a series of newspaper
articles by Judy L. Thomas that appeared in
January of 2000. It is too much to say
Catholics were "rocked" by the attendant
media hype--the scandal threshold has been
raised pretty high in recent years--but
among the laity the articles occasioned, if
not a gasp, at least a general sigh of
exasperation. From all sides, almost, one
heard the complaint "Why doesn't somebody do
something?" Why not indeed.
large part of the answer is implicit in the
remarkable response to the situation
tendered by Bishop Boland. To aver that a
priest shows he is human by dying of AIDS is
to say that it is somehow natural to our
human state to engage in acts of passive
consensual sodomy, from which the resultant
infection takes its predictable course. Few
Catholics who are not in Holy Orders would
share this view of human nature. In reality,
the fact that priests die of AIDS proves
that they commit sin, by which they show not
that they are human but that they act in a
sub-human manner--sub-human not in any
special sense, but in the ordinary sense in
which each of us falls short of his true
human dignity by sinning, whatever our sin
Bishop Boland, like many of his brethren, is
unwilling to concede the major premise. "I
would never ask a priest how he got [AIDS],"
he told Thomas, "just like nobody asked me
two years ago how I got cancer of the colon.
But I would provide for him. I would not
write him off and say, 'Because you've got
AIDS and because there are doubts about how
one can acquire it, therefore you're not a
good priest.’" Well, let's take the case of
a 3-year-old girl brought into the emergency
room with a broken jaw and cigarette burns
on her rib cage. Suppose the hospital
personnel said, "Look, there's more than one
way to pick up these injuries, and the
girl's medical treatment will be the same
whatever their cause, so there's no point in
asking how she got them."
of us would see such a response as a
culpably willful refusal to face up to a
grim reality. By the same token, when we are
urged to pretend that there is room for
doubt as to how most priests contract AIDS,
we can be sure that our gaze is being
intentionally diverted from the ugly and
indisputable facts: a disproportionately
high percentage of priests is gay; a
disproportionately high percentage of gay
priests routinely engages in sodomy; this
sodomy is frequently ignored, often
tolerated, and sometimes abetted by bishops
and superiors. ...
priest problem will continue to worsen as long as
this code-talk remains the dominant idiom. As long
as seminarians are "educated in sexuality" by the
Michael Petersons and are warned by their superiors
that they must "live comfortably with people of
different sexual orientations," we can be sure that
the number of gays will steadily increase in the
clergy and the language of moral integrity will be
pushed out of the discussion. Quite simply, those
entrusted to fix what is broken are broken
themselves and are camouflaging their real motives
in the fuzzy vocabulary of therapy and pastoral
every institutional crisis, this one ultimately
boils down to the question of accountability. Who
recruits the newcomers? Who forms their habits and
attitudes? More importantly, who appoints the
recruiters and educators? Who will name the problems
for what they are and take responsibility for
putting them right? The issue of accountability
forces us to confront a yet more intimidating
crisis, one which is easily misunderstood and which
I take up with reluctance, but which must be faced
squarely as an unpleasant truth.
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