Yesterday was World AIDS Day, "an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died." The Catholic Church is one of the undisputed global leaders in caring for people living with HIV/AIDS, though opinions on the topic and how best to prevent the spread of the disease varies even within the church. I came across a few different stories that I think show the range of opinion.
One from EWTN reports on calls for universal access to medication:
Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers appealed for universal access to life-saving treatment for all AIDS victims and urged others to show solidarity with them.
"Although the international community began to work against this infection over twenty years ago, unfortunately it is estimated that 1,800,000 people still die every year because of HIV. These are people who could lead normal lives if they only had access to suitable pharmacological therapies, those known as antiretroviral therapies," the council's president Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski said Dec. 1.
A piece in The Guardian challenges Pope Benedict on the church's stance against using condoms in the fight to prevent the spread of HIV:
There are indeed many ethical issues involved in Aids and preventing the spread of HIV. I would like to see the institutional church address some of them, such as the Catholic hierarchy's continued campaign to deny condoms to those seeking to prevent the spread of HIV, especially in the many treatment centres that the church runs around the world. This is especially important for couples when one person is positive and seeks to prevent transmitting the disease to his or her partner. The church hierarchy does not permit condom use, even for these "discordant" couples.
In addition, Pope Benedict leads a church that receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year for HIV and Aids treatment and prevention. Leaders in the church seek to deny the thousands of workers in Catholic institutions around the world the right to distribute condoms that would save lives. This is intolerable. Some bishops continue to lie about the effectiveness of condoms in saving lives. While condoms are not a panacea, they are very effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and should be provided to those who can benefit from their use.
Over at First Things, there is a reply to this criticism:
For Benedict and the Church, an 80 percent success rate in preventing HIV infection is not enough. This number fails to recognize that all persons are worth protecting—and that all persons have the ability to take the necessary steps to achieve 100 percent risk avoidance. Benedict’s call to a “real humanization of sexuality” may seem out of touch with reality, but hard facts and science are on his side. Even the Centers for Disease Control notes that “Condom use cannot provide absolute protection against HIV. The surest way to avoid transmission of HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner.” Until 80 percent reaches 100 percent, the Church will refuse to accept such piecemeal solutions to the problem. On this World AIDS Day, let’s hope the rest of the world will demand the same.
And finally, CRS (Catholic Relief Services), highlights some of the work they and their affiliates do around the world to care for those living with HIV/AIDS here.
(Photo: St Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, DC, held a candlelight vigil prayer service on the steps on the cathedral following afternoon Mass.)