Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Karna Swanson

8/2/2008 (6 years ago)

Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

In this interview, Monsignor Vitillo shares what he sees as the Church's role in fighting the spread of the AIDS virus, and the role of faith-based organizations.

Highlights

By Karna Swanson

Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

8/2/2008 (6 years ago)

Published in Africa


MEXICO CITY (Zenit) - Teaching abstinence outside marriage and fidelity within has been proved to be much more effective in decreasing the spread of HIV than simply distributing condoms, according to the special advisor on HIV for Caritas Internationalis.

Monsignor Robert Vitillo, who will participate in the XVII International AIDS Conference, to be held Aug. 3-8 in Mexico City, adds that unfortunately, abstinence and infidelity are not given the attention they deserve among experts and researchers.

Some 25,000 experts, physicians, activists and decision-makers from around the world are expected to attend the conference organized by the International AIDS Society, which has at its theme "Universal Action Now."

Caritas Internationalis sponsored a pre-conference seminar Wednesday for Caritas participants from Latin America, and on Aug. 5, together with the Jesuits of Mexico and the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, it will host delegates from Catholic organizations in an evening of prayer and discussion.

In this interview, Monsignor Vitillo shares what he sees as the Church's role in fighting the spread of the AIDS virus, and the role of faith-based organizations at the conference.

Q: You say a major challenge the Church faces with regards to AIDS is ignorance of what the Church is doing to fight it. What is the Church doing? What is unique about the Church's approach?

Monsignor Vitillo: As I have been privileged to witness the response of the Catholic Church to the HIV pandemic on literally every continent, I have noted that the Church's response is very consistent with its overall mission:

-- To teach people both about the facts related to this pandemic, and about the permanent values that should be the foundation of our response. This includes both how to prevent the further spread of HIV -- by observing sexual abstinence outside marriage and life-long, mutual fidelity within marriage -- and how we should respond to those already living with or affected by the virus -- with acceptance, love, and solidarity, and without discrimination, rejection, or stigmatization.

-- To serve people. Here the Caritas organizations at the regional, national, diocesan and parish levels have played -- and continue to do so -- an important role in organizing and replicating health care, social services, emotional support, income-generation activities, orphan care, advocacy and self-help programs for and with persons living with or affected by HIV.

In addition to Caritas, there are many other Catholic organizations working to help those affected by HIV.

-- To provide pastoral care to persons living with or affected by HIV.

Many people who know firsthand the impact of the virus are searching to deepen their relationship with God, especially as they face the challenge which HIV has posed to them and/or to their loved ones.

They also desperately want to understand that this virus has not been sent as a "punishment from God" -- a number of bishops' conferences, as well as Pope John Paul II, addressed this issue very clearly by explaining that, according to Catholic doctrine, God does not "punish" people by sending them illnesses.

Q: Last week 50 Catholic groups asked Benedict XVI to lift the Church's ban on artificial contraception, and accused the Church's stance of having "catastrophic effects" in the spread of AIDS. Does the Church's position against condoms constitute an obstacle against fighting AIDS?

Monsignor Vitillo: I would like to slightly transpose this question in order to emphasize my strong conviction that the Church's teaching, which insists on sexual abstinence outside marriage and lifelong, mutual fidelity within marriage, is indeed scientifically valid and has offered evidence-based proof that people who observe such behavior have been able to prevent the spread of HIV.

Studies in countries where the HIV prevalence rate has been decreased in recent years, such as Uganda, Kenya, and Thailand, indicate that people in these countries were more disposed to reduce the number of their sexual partners and/or to delay the onset of sexual activity than to adopt the use of condoms.

Such behaviors -- reduction of sexual partners and delay of onset of sexual activity -- are much closer to the Church's teaching on sexuality and on prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections than is an exclusive focus on condom promotion.

Regrettably, however, many scientists, HIV prevention educators, and AIDS activists are so fixed on condom promotion that they do not give due attention to the risk avoidance that is possible to achieve through abstinence outside marriage and mutual, lifelong fidelity within marriage.

I believe that the Church does a great service to HIV prevention efforts by focusing on risk avoidance and on deeper and longer-lasting behavior change that is necessary to make a significant impact on reducing -- and, hopefully, stopping -- the further transmission of HIV.

Q: Will faith-based organizations have a strong voice at this international conference, or is the work of these organizations seen as being on the margin?

Monsignor Vitillo: In recent international conferences on AIDS, the voice of faith-based organizations has grown stronger, but there always is room for improvement in this regard.

For the past several International AIDS Conferences, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), based in Geneva, has made efforts to organize an ecumenical pre-conference. This year, in Mexico City, the EAA has some 450 registered participants for the pre-conference that will be held from July 31 to Aug. 2.

The EAA also organizes an inter-faith exhibit booth at which many organizations -- Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and others -- exhibit their resources. Because this is a joint effort, the booth is large enough to "compete" with pharmaceutical companies, large governmental displays, etc., for the attention of the some 25,000 participants in the International AIDS Conference.

There have been efforts by some of the conference organizers, including the International AIDS Society, to include the voices of religious leaders and of those working with faith-based organizations.

Regrettably, for some groups, including some particularly aggressive activist groups, faith-based organizations represent an obstacle to an effective AIDS response. I believe that such thinking is deeply flawed and fails to recognize the crucial and life-saving response to AIDS that is embodied in the faith-based efforts.

Some of these groups receive substantial funding from foundations, and even from some governments, that attempt to promote a relativist, secular agenda in the world.

And these groups sponsor few, if any, direct services to those living with or affected by the virus, even though they represent themselves as the "voice" of people so affected. They certainly don't represent the majority of poor and marginalized people who very much appreciate the engagement of churches and faith-based organizations in the global response to AIDS.

I believe that we need to engage such negative "voices" in respectful dialogue, but, at the same time, we must stay focused on the activities that will have the greatest impact on the lives of those who know firsthand the impact of HIV in their lives.

Q: Is there a divide between faith-based and secular organizations, or do they work together? Do faith-based organizations face any extra challenges?

Monsignor Vitillo: There certainly is positive experience and much more potential for faith-based and secular organizations to work together on those efforts for which they share common values and strategies.

For example, in June 2007, Caritas Internationalis and the Unions of Superiors General jointly sponsored a Night of Solidarity -- an initiative of the World AIDS Campaign -- to promote universal access to anti-retroviral medications.

As another example, Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic HIV/AIDS Network plan to join the "Making Medicines Child-Sized" advocacy campaign of the World Health Organization to promote medicines, including anti-retroviral medications, that are better adapted for use among children.

I believe that faith-based organizations face some particular challenges related to such collaboration:

-- Many secular groups are not accustomed to working with faith-based organizations. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance recently published a manual titled "Building Better Partnerships" to assist such groups to understand better the major faith traditions, the values that undergird their beliefs and actions, and the strategies employed by them in responding to AIDS.

-- Faith-based groups must exercise particular caution to avoid compromising their beliefs and values when they engage in such collaboration with secular groups, and must be careful to avoid creating any scandal through such collaboration.

-- Such collaboration may require that faith-based and secular groups "agree to disagree" on certain issues and make special efforts to respect each other without compromising their own basic identity and values.

Q: What is the message Caritas brings to the table at this conference? Conversely, what is Caritas hoping to take away?

Monsignor Vitillo: Caritas participants bring many gifts and skills, as well as needs, to the table of the International AIDS Conference.

First of all, we must remember that Caritas is rooted in Catholic teaching, especially in the social doctrine of the Church. That teaching brings us a vision of the whole person, created in the image of God, gifted with a God-given, unique and irrevocable dignity.

Catholic doctrine also reminds us that, as a Church, we are a community and must act as a leaven to help people, especially those who are most poor, vulnerable and marginalized, to develop themselves, even as we look forward to the fulfillment of our development at the end of our earthly lives and at the end of this world.

This vision is beautifully articulated in "Deus Caritas Est," the first encyclical of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI. The Confederation of Caritas Internationalis has studied and continues to reflect on this encyclical with particular care and attention, and we bring that reflection to all our responses to the world social challenges and natural and human-made emergencies, including that of the HIV pandemic.

This equips us to bring to the International AIDS Conference a desire to identify more than technical or temporary solutions to this pandemic and, alternatively, to identify solutions based on values and on long-term behavior change on the level of relationships between individuals and in society as a whole.

For the past 20 years our confederation has joined other Catholic organizations in sharing both our learning and experience in responding to HIV and in advocating for more just policies and solutions to problems related to this pandemic. I think that we will have more participants from Catholic organizations than at previous conferences, so I hope we can make our presence known and appreciated.

Finally, I think that I can speak for other Caritas participants when I say that we hope to learn more -- the current scientific evidence related to the pandemic, projections for the future, effective strategies for prevention, care, support, and treatment. Of course, we will need to assess such strategies from the "lens" of our Catholic values and teaching.

And we wish to deepen our appreciation for the firsthand experience of those who live with or have been affected directly by HIV, and to engage them more actively in our Caritas-sponsored responses to the pandemic.



Comments


More Africa

Obianuju Ekeocha: Western Giants Launch Dangerous and Controversial Contraceptive in Africa Watch

Image of Obianuju Ekeocha - I am only one African woman, but from where I stand I choose today to speak up, to lament, to complain and to shed silent tears for my fellow African women, with the hope that by the end of today, my words and tears may reach and touch the hearts of people of goodwill around the world who will join me in defending the dignity of the African women.

By Obianuju Ekeocha

Who will speak up for the women of Africa? Who will lament the crass disregard for their well-being? Who will complain about the cruel disrespect with which they are being treated? Who will shed tears for the irreparable damage that could befall them? I am only ... continue reading


Boko Haram undermines stability of Nigeria Watch

Image of At least 45 people were killed in a Boko Haram reprisal attack on a village in northeastern Nigeria, the epicenter of the Islamists' five-year insurgency.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While the Nigerian army has made movies to retake two small villages overrun by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, another terrorist attack was launched by the terrorist group claimed the lives of 45 people. The mood here is one of confusion with the population ... continue reading


Humanitarian truce declared in Libya to evacuate civilians Watch

Image of The truce doesn't appear to have been respected.

By Kaci Racelma (Algiers, Algeria)

Forces loyal to the retired General Khalifa Haftar fighting Islamist groups such as Ansar Charia in Libya has reached a boiling point. The two sides have since agreed to a humanitarian truce in order to evacuate civilians from battle zones. ALGIERS, ALGERIA ... continue reading


Former African child slave speaks out Watch

Image of Anti-slavery campaigner James Kofi Annan is pictured at a school run by his charity Challenging Heights, which helps former child slaves.

By Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation

At six years old James Kofi Annan was sold into slavery. For seven years he risked his life diving into the murky waters of Ghana's vast Lake Volta to untangle fishing nets. LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Today Annan runs a charity which is credited with ... continue reading


Terrorist threat remains relevant in Egypt Watch

Image of Said group, Ansar Beit al Maqdes, doesn't intend to give up and threatens to go far in its war against the Egyptian decision-makers, including military power which toppled former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Egypt is likely to become a favorite target among militant Islamist groups. The alleged interference of Marsha al Sissi coupled with his commitment to wage war against Islamist militias is likely to inflame like-minded terrorist groups in the region. ALGIERS, ... continue reading


21st Century SHAME: Almost 36 million people living as slaves worldwide Watch

Image of Mauritania was again the country where slavery was most prevalent by head of population while Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, rose up the rank from 96th place to be listed as the fourth worst country by percentage of the population.

By Katie Nguyen, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Almost 36 million people are living as slaves across the globe with an index on Monday listing Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Haiti, Qatar and India as the nations where modern-day slavery is most prevalent. LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Walk Free Foundation, ... continue reading


Eleven drug smugglers arrested south of Algeria Watch

Image of The connection of these smugglers with Islamist armed groups is heavily felt among the civil society, wherein security remains the chief concern.

By Kaci Racelma (Algiers, Algeria)

Eleven smugglers were arrested this past weekend in Algeria's south by the People's National Army. News of the arrest was made in a statement released by the Ministry of Defense and was relayed in local newspapers. ALGIERS, ALGERIA (Catholic Online) - In the ... continue reading


Sixteen people injured in Cairo metro train explosion Watch

Image of Since the fall of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has been regularly shaken by the attacks.

By Kaci Racelma (Algiers, Algeria)

An explosion injured at least 16 people in a subway car in Cairo. The attack came day after Egyptian terrorist groups pledged their allegiance to Islamist State. These groups wasted little time, detonating the train bomb on Thursday. ALGIERS, ALGERIA (Catholic ... continue reading


VIDEO: What's scarier than a shark? How about a GIANT COBRA on the beach! Watch

Image of A man strolling along the beach encountered a Cape Cobra, while it was taking a dip in the pool to soak its skin prior to shedding.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A South African man had the shock of his life while strolling along a Cape Town beach, when he encountered a deadly snake. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Jeffery Rinks, a Cape Town local, photographed the deadly Cape cobra in the shallows of Hout Bay, as it was ... continue reading


Ansar Beit al-Maqdess, Egyptian jihadist group pledges allegiance to ISIL Watch

Image of In an audio posted on its Twitter account, a reported Ansar Beit al-Maqdess recording says

By Kaci Racelma (Algiers, Algeria)

The Egyptian Ansar Beit al-Maqdess jihadist group, announced its allegiance to Islamic state earlier this week. The group's loyalty to al Baghdadi's organization comes as no surprise as other groups in North Africa have already pledged their allegiance to ISIL. ... continue reading


All Africa News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
11 "For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
1 [Psalm Of David] Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 25:31-46
31 'When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted ... Read More

Reading 2, First Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
20 In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 23rd, 2014 Image

Bl. Miguel Pro
November 23: Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter