Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 9, 2001
Church active in care for those with AIDS
But Vatican maintains UN statement too focused on condoms
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
UNITED NATIONS — The Catholic Church was active at several levels at the first special session of the UN General Assembly on the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
In a message to the June 25-27 meeting, Pope John Paul decried the "excessive, sometimes even exorbitant" prices of HIV/AIDS medicines and urged wealthy nations to respond generously to the poor who have HIV or AIDS.
Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told the assembly that Catholic agencies and its other organizations provide one-fourth of all care given to those with HIV and AIDS around the world.
The Vatican welcomed with some reservations the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted by the assembly. Although it is not a General Assembly member, the Vatican had participated informally in negotiations over the language of the declaration.
While condoms were often at the centre of attention during the meeting, Lozano told the assembly that "training in the authentic values of life, love and sexuality" is the most effective way of preventing sexual transmission of AIDS.
"No one can deny that sexual licence increases the danger of contracting the disease," he said. "It is in this context that the values of matrimonial fidelity and of chastity and abstinence can be better understood."
Addressing the role of poverty in the spread of AIDS, he urged more attention to promoting global justice.
On the high cost of AIDS medicines, he said that "the law of profit alone cannot be applied to essential elements in the fight against hunger, disease and poverty."
In a "statement of interpretation" on the assembly's final declaration, the Vatican delegation said the Holy See's support for a new commitment to fight AIDS should not be understood as "an endorsement of concepts that it cannot support for moral reasons."
It said the Vatican "has in no way changed its moral position" on the "use of condoms as a means of preventing HIV infection."
"The Holy See also regrets that irresponsible, unsafe and high-risk or risky behaviour was not adequately discussed and addressed in preparing this declaration," the Vatican statement said.
Msgr. Anthony Frontiero of the Vatican mission to the United Nations told CNS that the Vatican was pleased it was able to get a reference to "reducing risk-taking behaviour" into the declaration.
But the declaration did not give sufficient attention or priority to the need for responsible behaviour, he said.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, told Catholic News Service after the UN meeting that the South African bishops are wrestling with the question of whether the AIDS crisis has brought a need for new thinking about condoms.
Dowling, the South African bishops' AIDS liaison, said the Church will continue to emphasize AIDS prevention through abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage.
But he said the bishops are looking at a reflection document that will address whether, "in a world where people choose not to live according to these values," condoms may be seen in some contexts as a means to prevent death, not a means to prevent transmission of life.
South Africa has some 4.5 million people with HIV, the largest number in the world.
Irish-born Dominican Missionary Sister Patricia Walsh, who has worked in Zimbabwe since 1973, also attended the assembly.
Zimbabwe, a nation of 11.4 million people, is among the countries most severely affected by HIV/AIDS. More than one in four adults is infected with HIV.
Walsh, health coordinator for Zimbabwe's Conference of Religious Superiors, said virtually every child in Zimbabwe is affected by the disease. Those who are born infected usually die by the time they are five and many of those not infected are orphaned as their parents die from the disease.
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