The German bishops are committed to make sure that HIV-infected priests and religious in Africa can talk openly about their situation. Until now they could “not openly live with HIV while in the church service.”
This is one of the results of a study that the Working Group of the department for the work in the universal church of the German Bishops Conference has released on Tuesday. “Lessons from the responses of the Catholic Church on HIV and AIDS in Africa,” is the theme of the study. It contains the results of an international field study, which was conducted from 2010 to 2013 in Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi by theologians and health experts which are summarized. Not only medical aspects, but also pastoral and ethical issues are addressed.
Furthermore the study calls that church and medical institutions should work better together. Any efforts in the fields of HIV prevention, care, support and support for AIDS patients should be continued. The results of the study will be disseminated through workshops in Africa, which was the wish of the participating African bishops.
Basically, the situation of the people should be considered and taken into account, according to the study. Economic, social, cultural and political pressure has pushed many people to risky behavior. In the training of priests and pastoral workers ethical and pastoral skills related to the pandemic must be taken into account. (translated from the Vatican News – German section)
For somebody advocating to address the question of HIV positive priest here in South Africa since years this small article feels like a great encouragement. Until now I have experienced only great openness when addressing the issue in the Vatican with the head of the Papal Council for Health Care and the secretary for the Council on Justice and Peace, but met with rather quiet resistance when addressing the issue here in South Africa. It is indeed not a sexy topic, but the question, how we can turn the double stigma priests and religious suffering from the pandemic into a blessing for them and their respective communities is for me an important one. An organization like the church which caters so much for HIV positive people in general and was and is at the forefront in the fight against HIV/AIDS on practical level here in South Africa can at the end only be authentic if it caters with the same compassion and openness for the own people affected and infected.
I have experienced how anxious priests are, who are infected. It seems to be in the current situation impossible to get two priests who are both HIV positive in the same room to share life. The fear of being known, being betrayed by a colleague and exposed, the fear of rejection from the respective parish or community shows a climate within the church urgently to be addressed. We are a welcoming church and the unconditional love of God we have to proclaim must be felt and extended to our fellow priests and religious brothers and sisters. It is indeed also a question of Justice & Peace within the church to do so and make space available for this. Once again: Stigma must be turned into blessing – and the unconditional love of God will shine palpable upon us all.