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AIDS And The Priesthood
Eamonn McCann on an American survey which suggests the rate of AIDS deaths among US priests is four times greater than among the average population.
Eamonn McCann, 17 Feb 2000
It s tempting to begin with the obvious
allusion. Kansas City, Kansas City here I come, They got some crazy ways of lovin there . . . And crazy ways of being lonely there, from lovelessness inflicted by religion.
A Kansas City newspaper, the Star, last week published the results of a survey suggesting that priests in the United States are dying from AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than the general US population and that the cause is often concealed on their death certificates.
The Star says that several hundred US priests have died of AIDS since the mid-1980s and that many hundreds more are still living with HIV.
The paper quotes Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit: I think this speaks to a failure on the part of the church. Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn t know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive. And so they would handle it in ways that were not healthy.
A few months back, the Star sent questionnaires to a random selection of 3,000 of the 46,000 priests in the United States, and received 801 replies. This is regarded as a high return for a survey of this sort. The paper says that the margin of error in the findings is 3.5 percentage points.
Six out of 10 priests who responded said they knew of at least one fellow-priest who had died of an AIDS-related illness, and one-third knew a priest living with AIDS. Three-fourths said the church needed to provide more sex education for seminarians.
How to be celibate and to be gay at the same time, and how to be celibate and heterosexual at the same time, that s what we were never really taught. And that was a major failing, Dr. Gumbleton is quoted as saying.
Asked about their sexual orientation, 75% of respondents said they were heterosexual, 15% said they were homosexual, and five percent said they were bisexual.
Fr. John Keenan, who runs Trinity House, an outpatient clinic for priests in Chicago, told the paper that he believed most priests with AIDS contracted the disease through same-sex relations. He said he had treated one priest who had infected eight other priests.
The Star claimed that the exact number of priests who have died of AIDS or become infected with HIV was unknown, partly because so many suffer in solitude. When priests tell their superiors, the cases generally are handled quietly.
The newspaper cited the case of Bishop Emerson 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 cited unknown natural causes , and listed his occupation as laborer in the manufacturing industry .
After an AIDS activist complained at the cover-up, officials changed the cause of death to HIV-related illness, but the untruth about Dr. Moore s occupation went uncorrected.
The newspaper said the AIDS death toll rate among priests appears to be at least four times the rate for the general US population.
The Star cited some priests and behavioural experts saying that the church had, in effect, intimidated priests into silence by treating homosexual acts as an abomination and the breaking of celibacy vows as shameful.
It claimed that Catholic cardinals in the United States and high-ranking Vatican officials had declined to discuss the findings of the survey.
Bishop Raymond Boland of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was quoted saying that the AIDS deaths showed priests as human.
Much as we would regret it, it shows that human nature is human nature. And all of us are heirs to all of the misfortunes that can be foisted upon the human race.
When people suggest that such and such a phenomenon can be put down to human nature, they are usually resisting the attribution of blame, not because it s impossible to say who or what is to blame but because it s obvious.
What the Kansas City Star s survey reveals is a hidden reservoir of suffering. Human nature has nothing to do with it, other than in a negative sense, in that the Catholic Church s denial and frustration of human nature constantly replenishes the misery.
Regularly, we draw attention to the way clerics inflict pain on innocents who fall under their sway. We should keep in mind, too, that, often, those who lash out are themselves lacerated people. Religion scourges even them who wield the whip.