The Catholic Church in the U.S. has significantly improved its ministry to priests with AIDS and the rate of new cases of the disease may be on the decline, writes Jon Fuller in the Jesuit magazine America (March 18).
A late January report that American Catholic priests are dying with AIDS at a higher rate than that of the general U.S. population was a front page story across the country. The report by the Kansas City Star first found that the death rate was four times that of the general U.S population, but in a later revision the newspaper said the rate was about double the death rate of the adult male population. Fuller writes that the Star’s numbers seem plausible, but adds that the church’s response to priests with AIDS has changed over the last 20 years, leading to a downturn of reported new infections with the disease..
Fuller, a doctor who was founding president of the National Catholic AIDS Network, writes that where shame and avoidance marked most workshops and other programs concerning priests with AIDS in the 1980s, today there is a widespread acknowledgment of this situation. He adds that the avoidance of sexual issues among priests actually led to some acting out of sexual feelings that “erupted after years or decades of being submerged,” leading to greater chances of contracting AIDS.
Part of the “sea change’ that has occurred on the issue is the “vastly increased attention given to the area of psychosexual development in the training of clergy and religious.” Rather than avoiding any talk of sexuality, today there is more of a “proactive, systematic treatment of integrating sexuality with celibacy.” Fuller concludes that we are “recognizing the absolute necessity of dealing openly, realistically and respectfully with the fact that orders and dioceses are made up of human beings who share the same spectrum of sexual orientations as the population at large.”
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