God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Study of the German Catholic Bishops Conference on HIV/AIDS published in Germany

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.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

22.09.2009 more fundamental questions…

In the last days I described my stance on mandatory testing and the pre-testing counseling. Having now more time to dedicate my energy towards the HIV/AIDS portfolio, there are more topics I feel are necessary to persue in the coming months and years. I have spoken already about the need to end the stigmatization within the health sector itself.  On the political front I can forsee to look more intensive into the question of travel freedom of people living with the virus. The ban to visit certain countries or the ban to get a work permit if you are HIV positive as you can find it in Australia, Singapore and many other countries is not only a sign of a lack of maturity of politicians in the respective countries but also a clear violation of human rights. I am aware that the UN, but also the German “AIDS Hilfe” is dealing with the issue, but we should all join hands and start to pressurize political systems allowing such violations of dignity and human rights.
In some of the blogs I mention the work with HIV positive priests and religious as well as seminarians. This is indeed a very tricky question and I hope that in October, when I am in Rom to meet together with Joachim Franz with the papal council for health care workers, to get this council on board to have a hard look how we deal with HIV and AIDS in our own ranks. Is the refusal to take a HIV positive person into e.g. monkhood or a seminary not a sign of fear and immaturity of the church? Are we as a church really allowed to deal with infected people in refusing them to follow their vocation? I am sure that God does not mind the status of a person. So we also shouldn’t mind the HIV status of a person. What kind of AIDS policies are regulating the life of the church and their institutions? Do we advocate the acceptation of people living with the virus only for the area outside the church? Tough questions, but we owe it the greater love of God to check our own balances on those questions and see whether they add up.

The ethical question of ceasing treatment if somebody does not adhere at all – also a tricky question. I mentioned the criminal law as a tool of prevention, which I find absolutely unreasonable in the way it is administered in most countries, specially also here in Africa.

Those are some of the questions in my mind, where I would like to contribute towards a solution which ends the madness of stigmatization and discrimination, which forces governments and churches to act reasonable and always upholding the dignity and human rights of every person.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ball of HOPE 2020

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