Theologians urge church rethink on spread of HIV


TWO LEADING Catholic theologians have forcefully criticised religious leaderships over their stance on measures to prevent the spread of the HIV virus.

Fr Enda McDonagh and Fr James Keenan said the HIV pandemic was currently responsible for a scale of death, per year, which was equivalent to 10 times the loss of life in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

Addressing “those with the political, economic, moral and religious power”, they said such people must undergo “a moral conversion of dearly held but now unfounded and unethical positions in regard to condoms, needle exchange and other means of (HIV) prevention”.

Fr McDonagh, former professor of moral theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, and Fr Keenan, founder professor of theology at Boston College, make their comments in a pamphlet prepared for the Catholic Progressio group.

It is titled Instability, Structural Violence and Vulnerability: A Christian Response to the HIV Epidemic.

They continued also that “corporate vulnerability to the pandemic will require the fundamental step of putting people – and suffering people above all – before profits. This would require the drug companies to forego their usual exorbitant profits.”

These companies “in their greed” were “not only assisting in the further dehumanising of the infected and their carers, but dehumanising themselves”.

They noted, that instead of supporting public health HIV preventative strategies such as condoms, needle exchange and preventive education, some leaders perceived that the better shields were those which kept the vulnerable and most-at-risk people away from the “general population” or those seen as protecting social mores and orthodoxy from contamination.

Such a strategy was “often backed by a deep moral judgmentalism”, they said. Studies on the HIV pandemic had found “a church leadership which stands aloof, righteous, and judgmental”.

They had also found that religious beliefs “strongly influence the way people think about HIV and AIDs”. It was found, for instance, that “a significant percentage of those surveyed” believed “HIV was a punishment from God”.

Moral judgmentalism “depends powerfully on the capacity to blame”, they said, and it generally meant perceived sufferers did not merit “the sympathetic, supportive, humanitarian response that other catastrophes prompt”.

As an example they pointed the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in which 300,000 people died. They noted the immediate worldwide response to that.

“Although HIV causes the same number of deaths every 37 days, the will to commit concomitant resources to prevent such loss of life simply does not exist,” they said.

“The biblical tradition of Job, whose narrative contradicts the deep-seated belief that we are the authors of our own troubles, apparently has no claim here,” they concluded.

The pamphlet is available at