Cleric's comments about Aids draw criticism around Belgium


BELGIUM'S MOST senior Catholic cleric ran into a storm of criticism after he described Aids as a kind of "intrinsic justice", remarks he later claimed were misunderstood.

With the church in this largely Catholic country struggling to recover from a litany of child abuse scandals, Archbishop André Léonard prompted national uproar when a new Flemish translation of a book of interviews with him brought fresh attention to his views on Aids.

The appearance of the book - originally published in French in 2006, long before he became primate last January - led to claims he was inciting people to hatred.

The opinions of the archbishop, whose conservative outlook is well-known, are set out in Monsignor Léonard - Conversationsby Louis Mathoux. In the book, he makes reference to Pope John Paul II, who said it was difficult to judge when asked if Aids was a punishment from God.

"I would not at all think in such terms. I do not see this illness as a punishment, at most a sort of inherent justice, a bit like how we are presented with the bill for what we do to the environment," he said. "Perhaps human love also wreaks revenge if it is mishandled without there having to be a transcendental source." The remarks were immediately condemned yesterday, with one politician calling for the withdrawal of state funding from the church, and groups that work with Aids patients expressing shock and indignation.

The archbishop called a press conference yesterday, insisting he had been misunderstood.

He did not regard Aids in all its forms as punishment, but was referring to promiscuous sex. He said he was not referring to people with HIV or Aids and said there should be no discrimination against them. Rather, he was targeting certain practices. "It was not about Aids from a blood transfusion or as an illness with which someone has been born," he said.

"If someone gets lung cancer from smoking, the cancer is a sort of inherent justice. The actions, consciously done, have a result."