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

Health team butchered in Guinea as Ebola outbreak accelerates Watch

Image of Health workers in Guinea being decontaminated after handling potentially Ebola infected materials.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Eight members of a medical team attempting to raise awareness about Ebola have been killed by villagers using machetes and clubs in Guinea. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The bodies of health workers, local officials and journalists were found in a septic tank ... continue reading


A new name for terror: Djounoud Al khalifa Watch

Image of Created this month by Khaled Abu Suleiman, whose real name is Gourou Abdul Malik, a 50-year-old man who left al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in order to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi as the commander of all followers of Islam.

By Kaci Racelma (Algiers, Algeria)

"Djounoud Al khalifa," or Soldiers of the Caliph is the given name of the new pivot of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which has been freshly created by the Islamic State in Islamic Maghreb. North Africa is now bracing for a spate of new ... continue reading


Death toll isn't the only toll: Ebola outbreak will cause untold economic damage Watch

Image of Aid workers in protective suits deal with Ebola infected patients.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A new report from the World Bank has revealed that the West African Ebola outbreak could cost affected nations billions of dollars and slash economic growth rates by double digits if the virus continues to spread. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Besides just ... continue reading


PRAY FOR NIGERIA - Catholic Church reports as many as 20 priests hiding from Boko Haram in Nigeria Watch

Image of Nigerian Christians are under serious threat from Boko Haram.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Catholic Church is warning the world that 25 villages, all with large Catholic populations, remain under the firm control of Boko Haram, an Islamic militant groups that has aligned itself with the Islamic State. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Catholic ... continue reading


World bank loans $105 million to combat Ebola Watch

Image of The grant, approved on the same day U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to send 3,000 military troops to the region, will also pay for training programs for international staff going to the countries, and basic supplies for quarantined areas.

By Stella Dawson, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The World Bank approved a $105 million grant on Tuesday to speed up delivery of emergency supplies and provide support for healthcare workers in the three West African countries worst affected by the Ebola crisis. (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The disease has ... continue reading


SECURITY THREAT: U.S. troops to join in fight against Ebola Watch

Image of Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves and the hardest hit of the countries affected by the crisis will be the focus of the U.S. military deployment.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

West Africa's deadly Ebola outbreak has been declared a threat to global security by U.S. President Obama and has since announced a major expansion of the U.S. role in trying to turning the deadly tide. In response, the president has deployed 3,000 troops to ... continue reading


Has Ebola gone airborne? Fears spread that virus could mutate Watch

Image of The World Health Organization has reported that the West African outbreak of Ebola has caused 2,500 deaths since it began in early 2014.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Concerns have been raised that the federal government is anticipating a rapid spread of the Ebola virus, as evidenced by the U.S. State Department ordering 160,000 hazmat suits. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Market Watch posted a press release in which ... continue reading


Obama declares war on Ebola! 3,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers head to Liberia Watch

Image of 3,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines are going to be sent to Liberia to help stop the current Ebola outbreak.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Thousands of U.S. troops will arrive in the West African nation of Liberia as part of President Barack Obama's response to the Ebola outbreak that is wreaking havoc in the region. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force ... continue reading


Traditional methods of fighting disease are not working in West Africa Watch

Image of Health workers transport the body of an Ebola victim wrapped in a plastic bag. Ebola victims are burned in the bags they're collected in.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which continues to ravage countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, has so far proved resistant to traditional methods of combating epidemics, notably contact tracing. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Lt. Rebecca Levine, ... continue reading


STUDY: Ebola outbreak could shortly infect surrounding African nations Watch

Image of Bats are being blamed for the transmission of the Ebola virus -- adding to the urgency is the fact that bats are eaten, frequently raw, in parts of Africa.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The organ-melting virus known as Ebola tearing through West Africa will most likely grow to infect other African nations, according to a worrisome new study. According to research by the University of Oxford, the deadly virus threatens to spread - not necessarily ... 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, First Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49
35 Someone may ask: How are dead people raised, and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 56:10-12, 13-14
10 In God whose word I praise, in Yahweh whose word I ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 8:4-15
4 With a large crowd gathering and people from every ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 20th, 2014 Image

Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and Companions
September 20: Feastday: September 20 The evangelization of Korea began ... 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