Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Karna Swanson

8/2/2008 (7 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 (7 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

Where are they going?: Number of ISIS fighters in Syria heavily drop Watch

Image of ISIS militants rise in Libya.

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The number of ISIS militants swarming Syria and Iraq is believed to have dropped from 19,000 to 25,000 fighters to 20,000 to 31,500, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest. However, as the number of fighters lower in that area, it is doubling in Libya. ... continue reading


Horrific female genital mutilation continues to haunt over 200 million girls and women around the world Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Despite efforts from the United Nations to completely outlaw this horrible practice, Female Genital Mutilation continues to affect girls and women all around the world.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the UN Children's agency, 200 million females ... continue reading


Why is the USA dumping Gitmo terrorists in Africa? Ghana Bishops Conference asks tough questions nobody wants to answer Watch

Image of Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The Bishop's Conference of Ghana is unhappy that the U.S. government has sent two known terrorists to their country. The bishops have sent a letter asking the government of Ghana to send the terrorists back to where they came from. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) ... continue reading


Boko Haram's horrific massacre leaves a trail of charred children's bodies Watch

Image of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared last year that Nigeria had

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The dreaded terrorist group Boko Haram razed the village of Dalori in northeastern Nigeria this past weekend. Fifty people were killed - some of them children, when the group marched into the village and began shooting indiscriminately. Horrifying photos of charred ... continue reading


Women tricked into sex trafficking ... BY OTHER WOMEN Watch

Image of Women continue to be tricked into becoming victims of the sex trafficking industry (StopEnslavement.org).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Women are often duped by other women into believing there are job opportunities in Dubai. After paying a finder's fee to the "friends" who get them jobs, women travel to Dubai and learn that they were really sold as prostitutes. Their passports and return flight ... continue reading


South Sudan Needs Change NOW: Sudanese leaders must put their nation's interests before their own, bishop says Watch

Image of Sudan has been the scene of nearly continuous civil war since it gained independence in 1956 (Photo by Al Jazeera).

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale joined his brother prelates from South Sudan and Sudan for a time of rest and prayer in Rome last week, during which they were able to discuss key issues the two countries face, including decades of internal conflict and war. Rome, Italy ... continue reading


Libyan man executed by Islamic State for practicing acupuncture Watch

Image of Libyan Haaji Mohammed says that one of the men is his friend,

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The scene on the video is familiar, but no less horrific. Two men in orange jumpsuits kneel before a black-clad Islamic State executioner and have their heads cut off with a scimitar before a cheering crowd. Libyan Haaji Mohammed says that one of the men is his ... continue reading


Terrorist attacks at Burkina Faso luxury hotel foiled; security forces storm facility Watch

Image of A terrorist siege at a Burkina Faso luxury ended on Saturday after security forces stormed the building.

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A terrorist siege at a Burkina Faso luxury ended on Saturday after security forces stormed the building. Twenty-eight people from 18 different nations died in the attack; the 156 people trapped in the hotel during the siege were freed and taken to safety. LOS ... continue reading


The world looks on as people in Africa continue to starve Watch

Image of People are starving to death while the world looks on (AFP).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Millions in Ethiopia and South Sudan are victims of both drought and war, leaving most to starve. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Ethiopia continues to suffer extreme droughts, doubling the number of people in need of help within a span of only three months, ... continue reading


Islamic State attacks Libyan oil supplies, killing guards, setting tanks on fire Watch

Image of Islamic State militants have launched attacks against Libya's checkpoints near the oil port of Es Sider for the past couple of days.

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The rapidly deteriorating conditions in the North African nation of Libya have continued to worsen. Islamic State militants have launched attacks against Libya's checkpoints near the oil port of Es Sider for the past couple of days. A storage tank in the port ... continue reading


All Africa News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Can you answer these four challenging questions about Lent?
  • Stations of the Cross - Series HD Video
  • Daily Reading for Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 HD Video
  • St. Apollonia: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, February 09, 2016
  • MAKE YOURSELF COUNT! Complete this quick Ash Wednesday survey
  • Daily Readings for Tuesday, February 09, 2016
  • 10 important things to consider during Lent

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
1 Solomon then summoned the elders of Israel to Jerusalem to bring the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 132:6-7, 8-10
6 Listen, we heard of it in Ephrathah, we found it at ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 6:53-56
53 Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for February 8th, 2016 Image

St. Jerome Emiliani
February 8: Jerome Emiliani lay chained in the dark dirty ... Read More