AIDS Conference: Anti-Gay Laws Harm Public Health; Catholic Support Still Essential

August 4, 2014

Participants in the 20th International AIDS Conference, held in Australia in July, expressed concerns about the uptick in anti-gay legislation around the globe, as well as cuts to faith-based healthcare providers.  Both factors exacerbate existing problems created by declining public interest in and funding for HIV/AIDS issues.

Addressing 18,000 delegates at the closing session in Melbourne, Australia, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Chris Beyrer, criticized laws targeting LGBT communities saying these “are setting us back toward exclusion: limiting rights, reducing health care access and aiding and abetting the virus.” He specifically named Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India as places where discrimination is harming prevention and treatment efforts.

Deborah Birx, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, spoke about the dual impact religion can have when dealing with HIV/AIDS. Highlighting the positive effects, she called faith-based efforts the “heartbeat of the response to HIV” and continued:

” ‘Many of us in the United States can remember the early scenes from St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City in the 1980s of desperate and dying young men being cared for by extraordinary and compassionate medical professionals and tireless nuns, when we didn’t know how to treat or what to do…What began as an awkward relationship between the gay community and the Catholic health care system became a story of acceptance, partnership, compassion and service that became a model for communities around the country and around the world.’…

“She said faith-based groups today provide 30-60 percent of the health care in countries where the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief operates, and much of that work is carried out by Catholics.”

Birx, however, warned conference attendees that stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, too often sanctioned or even promoted by religious leaders, could deeply set back the realistic goal of controlling AIDS. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the U.S. official challenged faith organizations saying:

” ‘[I]t is imperative that faith-based communities engage in renouncing and reducing the stigma and discrimination, hatred and violence that hamper our ability to reach and care for those in the society that are disenfranchised.’ “

Msgr. Robert Vitillo, longtime HIV/AIDS adviser to Caritas International, commented on the anti-gay laws:

“At face value, the legislation in some countries is supposedly to protect marriage between a man and a woman, or to prevent a more open concept of marriage which many northern countries seem to be legislating now. But many times legislation like this causes more discrimination, even violence, against sexual minorities…Yet many religious leaders do speak out against violence and discrimination.’ “

“He said while the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not condone homosexual behavior, ‘in no way would the Catholic church condone violence or discrimination against anyone.’ “

Vitillo added that cuts in international assistance are a concurrent threat, and they are based upon false understandings about economic development in nations once considered impoverished. Vitillo explained, in a separate piece in the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘It’s true that a small number of people are getting richer and richer, and the country’s GNP may have risen into the middle-income category, but the situation of the poor is often worse. And some governments claim they can handle all of their own health care, but they really can’t, and what they do provide they tend to concentrate in the large cities. As a result, the churches that have been providing care in rural areas have less access to funding today.’ “

Funding cuts and a shift away from faith-based providers are part of the fallout from decreased awareness and attention to HIV/AIDS issues in the international community. Maryknoll Fr. Rick Bauer, head of the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, said of this emerging dynamic:

” ‘AIDS is not a designer charity anymore…And this comes just as we’re starting to believe we might end the pandemic as a global health emergency by 2030…To achieve that, however, we’ve got to get more people on treatment and get their viral loads down. Such treatment is the best prevention, but it’s going to be hard to do if we can’t keep attention focused on the challenge and if we can’t have access to the necessary funding.’ “

Bauer cited his own situation in Namibia, where funding through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has dropped from $100 million to $40 million annually has caused treatment center closings and a lack of adequate research. He said Catholic efforts to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS treat the whole person–medical, social, emotional, spiritual–and have greater success than simply medical solutions, favored by secular programs. In summary, Bauer told the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘We now have the science to suppress the virus living in our sisters and brothers living with HIV. We now have the data that say if you get sufficient viral load suppression your life expectancy is the exactly the same as someone who is HIV-negative. Now we need the political will, the social mobilization, the church mobilization, to accompany our brothers and sisters to get the compliance and the viral load suppression that will ultimately make AIDS a manageable health issue.’ “

Still, Msgr. Vitillo expressed hope when leaving the conference:

“[T]here is more collaboration among the scientists than I’ve seen before, and more cooperation across disciplines, all of which gives hope for new discoveries’…

“Using benchmarks that experts have dubbed the 90-90-90 strategy, the new global assault on AIDS aims to expand testing so that 90 percent of HIV-infected individuals are aware of their status. Of that population, 90 percent will receive regular treatment with antiretroviral drugs. And 90 percent of those receiving that treatment will achieve sufficiently suppressed levels of the virus in their bodies that they will be unlikely to transmit it to others.”

This, according to Msgr. Vitillo, is a “step forward” in recognizing that treatment is really prevention and will help the AIDS pandemic become “a more or less managable chronic disease by 2030.”

Catholics and people of faith worldwide have joined the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn anti-gay legislation as inconsistent with Catholic teaching. These laws clearly increase discrimination and violence against people who are LGBT, and now it is clear they also harm the church’s longstanding commitment to end HIV/AIDS. To add your voice to #PopeSpeakOut, click here.

For AIDS-related posts on Bondings 2.0, see some of the related articles below or click here for full coverage.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles:

Bondings 2.0: “Discomfort with the Body of Christ 

Bondings 2.0: “Prayers for World AIDS Day

Bondings 2.0: “Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

Bondings 2.0: “The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference


Pope Francis Has Mixed LGBT Legacy As Archbishop in Argentina

March 15, 2013

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis settles in after initial celebrations, onlookers from all perspectives and places begin to dissect his legacy in Argentina to derive how he may lead from Rome. Bondings 2.0 will provide readers with a variety of commentary and information on Pope Francis as his papacy commences, starting today with an examination of his record on LGBT issues while archbishop.

Most notably, Cardinal Bergoglio presided over the Argentine Church in its failed attempt to stop marriage equality legislation in 2010 when equal rights for marriage were extended to all couples. The then-cardinal spoke of marriage equality in apocalyptic language. He perceived equal rights as a threat to existing families and used the term “war” when referring to the nation’s marriage equality debate.

Katie McDonough at Salon compiled some of Pope Francis’ sharpest critiques of marriage equality, which speak for themselves and include:

“‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’…

“Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: “This war is not yours but God’s.” May they succor, defend and join God in this war.’”

Pope Francis, as archbishop in Argentina, also spoke strongly against the adoption of children by same-gender couples, which he labeled a form of discrimination and abuse:

“‘At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.’”

On a positive note, Pope Francis is widely revered for his commitment to the marginalized in society. National Catholic Reporter reveals that as Cardinal Bergoglio, he kissed and washed the feet of twelve AIDS patients in 2001 as a show of his “deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS.”

As mixed as this record may be, not all view his record Argentina as the final word now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis. Writing in Time, Tim Padgett is keeping his hopes up:

“I want to believe that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other “heretics” while it’s de-prioritizing, at least in the public’s eye, its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

Whether Pope Francis will experience a shift as he assumes the papacy is known to God alone, but many in the LGBT community hold out for positive movement now that the former pope, Benedict XVI, has retired. Bondings 2.0 will report more thoroughly on signs of hope over the weekend, and further reactions from the Catholic LGBT community and organizations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

News NotesHere are some news items which may be of interest:

1) Read the inspiring Huffington Post story of Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell who works at Los Angeles’ Covenant House, a shelter and social service agency for homeless teenagers.  Of her work, Sister Margaret says:

“Some say, how can I, as a nun, surround myself with such people — gays, transsexuals, HIV-positive clients?”I usually respond: Read the Bible. Look which people Jesus surrounded himself with.”

2) According to a LGBTQNation.com story, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called upon the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) to publicly denounce Michael Peroutka’s $10,000 donation to the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA), the coalition which organized the state campaign to overturn marriage equality.  Peroutka is a member of  the League of the South, a neo-Confederate, secessionist organization labeled an “explicitly racist” hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.The MCC was a founding organizer of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. HRC is also calling on the MMA to return the donation.

3) The Supreme Court of Mexico, a heavily Catholic nation, has issued a decision that paves the way for marriage equality to become legal in the entire nation, according to the AfterMarriage blog.   Marriage equality is already legal in Mexico City, the nation’s capital district.

4) Joseph Amodeo, a Catholic writer who blogs at HuffingtonPost.com, offers “A Catholic Reflection on HIV/AIDS and the Call to Love,” which was originally presented as a talk on December 1, 2012, World AIDS Day,  at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Brooklyn, New York.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Prayers for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2012

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Today is World AIDS Day.  We pause to remember the effect that this pandemic has had on our world.  We recall that in the early days of the pandemic, when gay men were disproportionately affected by the syndrome, that the stigmas of homosexuality and illness for so long hampered so many from responding effectively.  We note that today the stigmas of poverty and race also hamper appropriate and effective responses to the newer populations that AIDS affects.

In a HuffingtonPost.com essay, Constance Mudenda, a Catholic woman, heartbreakingly offers two prayers for today:

“World AIDS Day is deeply emotional for me. In Lusaka, Zambia, people gather at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus for a candlelight service to remember loved ones killed by AIDS. I go to light candles and pray for my three children who died in the nineties, when a diagnosis of HIV here was a death sentence. One after the other I lost all of my children; first my son Chabala, then my daughters, Lubona and Namuya. All of us here looked on helplessly as our children, parents and friends were killed because medicine that was saving the lives of people with HIV in the West was too expensive to get to us. When antiretroviral medication (ARVs)finally arrived through the work of organizations like the Global Fund and PEPFAR, it was too late for my family. My eldest daughter would have been 19 this year if she had been able to hold on.

Constance Mudenda

Constance Mudenda

“The only reason I’m alive now is because 10 years ago, the world decided to do something about this pandemic which has by now killed 30 million of us. For 8 years I’ve been taking 2 little pills a day which have turned my illness from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease. I always say I’m married to my medication — until death do us part. I’ve been more faithful to these pills than to anything else in my life. . . .

“This World AIDS Day I will have two prayers — that, by 2015 no mother ever has to pass this deadly virus on to her baby again and that Lubona [her new infant daughter] will live in an AIDS free world.”

We join our prayers with those of Constance.

Last year on this day, Bondings 2.0 reported on the announcement of a competition to design New York City’s AIDS memorial, the site of which is a park across the street from the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village.  A Catholic hospital, St. Vincent’s was the primary caregiver for the city’s HIV/AIDS population in the early days of the epidemic when other care givers turned people away.

This past week, the New York City the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Parks Department both unanimously approved a design for the memorial.   Approval from the  Department of City Planning, the last hurdle, is expected by the end of the month.  You can view plans the memorial’s design here.

May this time of remembrance and consciousness-raising empower us to continue to work to care for the sick and to work for eradication.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.


Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

August 12, 2012

 

The National Catholic Reporter carries a review of a new book by Richard Giannone, entitled Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS and Spiritual Desire. 

The review, by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry (and your humble blogger), is a mixed one, based on what he views as two books in one:

“Richard Giannone’s memoir is really two books in one. The first book, the one suggested by the title, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, does not live up to its promise. The second book, the unanticipated story of Giannone’s care of his infirmed mother and sister, is a fine surprise.”

The reviewer explains the problem of the “first” book:

“Based on the word ‘reflections,’ I’d hoped his story would provide personal insight into the struggles of living a closeted existence during decades when “coming out” was sometimes a dangerous decision. I expected that there would be tales of courage and sacrifice about caring for friends with HIV/AIDS in a time when all of society’s institutions — including the church — ostracized these victims. I looked forward to reading reflections about connections between sexuality and spirituality from the perspective of one on the margins.

“Unfortunately, there is too little of that story in this text. . . .For example, Giannone offers the powerful and curious claim: “Being gay and seeking God are inextricably bound at the generative vortex of one’s nature.” Such a claim deserves serious unpacking of details, events, insights, but sadly he offers no further explanations. Those details would be where the true story lies. Unfortunately, there were too many such unfulfilled promises, too often summary when expansiveness is needed.”

While critical of the “first” book, the reviewer has praise for the “second” one which describes Giannone’s care of his ailing relatives:

“It is the second, far better book that is the heart of this volume. Caring for his mother’s physical needs provided the author with a wealth of opportunity for reflection on personal identity, family relationship, gender roles, ethnic and cultural barriers, and connections with the divine. The story of caring for her comes before the story of care for his sister and is the more compelling one. Understandably enough, a parent-child relationship is in many ways much more primary.

“The second book has wider appeal, of course, for it relates a common situation that many people face — caring for a sick family member, and some of the existential crises and vistas that such a task produces. Giannone’s preference for abstraction rather than detailed writing serves this section well. We are treated to some profound insights, such as his description of his sister’s return to her home after a long hospital sojourn: ‘At home on Harper Terrace, she would be solely dependent on the source of her life; she would be alone with the Alone.’ ”

The review concludes with a mixed recommendation:

“While Hidden does not deliver the title’s promise of insights into sexuality and spirituality within the gay and HIV/AIDS community, it can offer solace and companionship for those who take the difficult but rewarding journey of caring for a frail loved one.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference

July 26, 2012

The International AIDS Conference, the largest gathering of HIV/AIDS researchers, educators, advocates, care-givers, and pastoral workers in the world,  is meeting in Washington, DC, this week.  It is the first time in over 20 years that the United States has hosted the conference; for many years U.S. immigration policy would not admit people who were HIV+ into the country, so the meeting could not be held here.

Catholics are certainly a presence at the meeting.  Last weekend, Catholic Charities USA hosted a pre-conference three-day gathering of Catholics involved in pastoral care and social work with people who have HIV/AIDS.  Howard University Divinity School in Washington also hosted a three-day Interfaith Conference on HIV/AIDS issues and faith.

Among those attending all three events were two Catholics from the United Kingdom, Vincent Manning and Adela Mugabo.  The pair presented at the Catholic and Interfaith pre-conferences on the Catholic ministry they are doing in the UK with their organization, “Positive Catholics.”  Their presentation focused on the need to move from a model of peer support to a model of peer ministry.  In a National Catholic Reporter article about the Catholic Charities conference, Manning described this new ministry model as “a fellowship of the weak” :

Vincent Manning

Manning, of United Kingdom faith-based group Positive Catholics, said ‘stigma and fear produce a silence that isolates and excludes people,’ and the aim of the group is ‘to listen with great care – healing begins when a person feels seen and heard.’ “

The occasion of the International Conference also sparked memories of those who have gone before us and reflections on how far we have come.  Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter offered this very poignant description as part of his blog post on the Washington meeting:

“Memory sears. It is painful. It is grounded in experience and, just so, less easily shared. Those of us who lived through the HIV crisis before there was treatment look back on that time with pained hearts. It is as Augustine wrote about the death of his childhood friend: our tears have taken the place of our friends. The emptiness of life without so many friends and colleagues who once filled our lives but died too early from this dread disease, that emptiness remains. At Mass on Sundays, during the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls us to pray for those who have gone before us, and he usually pauses. I pray first for my Mom, then for my uncles and aunts, and my grandparents, for Fr. Kugler and Msgr. Ellis, and then I start down the list of those lost to AIDS: David, always first because he was my best friend and nary a day has passed since his death that I do not miss his wit and wisdom, Stephen, Damien, Nalty, Bryan, Hooper, Robert, the customer whose name I have forgotten who always had a coterie of friends with him when he came into the restaurant where I worked. I never seem to have time to mention them all before the priest continues with the prayer. As the priest continues, the very next lines in the Roman Canon recall apostles and martyrs: John the Baptist, Stephen, Mathias, Barnabas, Ignatius….The list of my friends who have died, which I am still muttering silently, blends in to naming of the saints. I like that.”

Winters’ post goes on to challenge the gay community, who he feels has re-shuffled their priorities away from HIV/AIDS to political causes such as marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   He observes:

“With limited resources, financial and political, it seems to me that the fight against HIV, especially because it now disproportionately affects minority populations, should still be the top priority for gay rights groups.  One cannot marry if one is dead. One cannot serve openly in the armed forces if one is dead.”

His concluding challenge is to ALL Catholics to continue working for people with HIV/AIDS:

“As Catholics, we cannot abandon the fight against HIV, still less our compassion for those who acquire the disease. As Catholics, we must fight the stigmatization that comes with the disease. As Catholics, our conscience and our attention must be pricked when we see a disease begin to disproportionately affect minority populations. As Catholics, we must fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act which will help make high-quality care available to everyone, not just the rich. As Catholics, called to love of neighbor, and assured that we will be judged by how we respond to the hungry, the stranger, the thirsty, and the ill, we cannot turn our eyes away from this still pernicious epidemic and all the socio-cultural sins it makes manifest.”

Another set of memories comes from an Oxford University Press blog post by Richard Giannone, a retired Fordham University professor who has recently authored a memoir, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire. Giannone recalls the early days of the epidemic, and its effect on one New York City Catholic parish:

“Though the Catholic church hadn’t been mother to her gay children, some came anyway to the 5:30 afternoon Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village. Clothes drooped on emaciated men in their mid-twenties to early forties. Pustules rutted the withered flesh of several. Some sported baseball caps to keep facial lesions shaded out of sight of onlookers. A few men used make-up to screen darkened facial spots. But nothing covered the bones of suffering or muted the sound of sickness from the pews punctuating the words of God from the altar.

“Living in wrack and ruin, these men brought life back into a church that left them for dead. They walked to the Lord’s Table for sustenance, more life. The vitality of their appeal stood out in sharp relief against the lifeless Christianity that vilified their gayness. Such spiritual defiance taught me what I needed to know and need to remember.

“AIDS was our passion. Its agony thrust gay life into the vortex of twentieth-century history. This previously censored truthfulness came to rest in rows of church benches for all to bear gayness in mind as part of providential history. Their perseverance asked me to trust the body. I did.

“At the liturgy, persons with HIV were not seen as the reviled carriers of plague rejected by society. Bodies that were hosts for infections sought the host of sacred healing. Their return to the home that spurned them showed that the divine spirit was far beyond any barrier of separation that humans erected for themselves. The love that dare not say its name howled out from its heart with what voice it had left to reclaim its place in God’s plan. Worship modeled a church and society to which I felt I could belong.”

May such memories, as well as the present witness of those who continue to struggle with the disease, as well as those who work to prevent and cure, as well as care for those affected, spur us on to greater resolve to end the epidemic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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