Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catholic Bishop Confuses Religion, Morality, Science and 'Nature'

A study carried out in Tanzania in 2004 found that about 47% of observed medical injection practices were unsafe and that 50-90% of curative injections were unnecessary. In a country with HIV prevalence standing at about 8% in 2003, this means that a lot of people are at risk of infection through medical procedures. Especially considering that a large percentage of people receiving invasive medical care are pregnant women, among whom HIV is particularly high.

This kind of finding makes the prouncements from the head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, very difficult to understand. He is said to have described the AIDS epidemic as an "inherent justice" resulting from the "mistreatment of the profound nature of human love", that "nature is taking revenge". If the man seriously believes this, then he must also think that such mistreatment takes place to a far greater extent in certain African countries and specific parts of some countries.

Whatever the explanation for the bishop's comments, they need to be retracted by both him and the church he is perceived to represent. A lot of instances of HIV are transmitted by accident, whether sexually or otherwise. If HIV mainly infected people who were sexually promiscuous, or even people who are guilty of 'immoral' behavior, quite a lot of Catholic priests from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, the US and many other countries would also be infected by now.

But most rational people know that HIV can be transmitted by and to those who are simply exercising their normal reproductive rights; it can be transmitted to people through unsafe medical care; also mothers, whether they are infected sexually or non-sexually, can pass the infection to their children, during pregnancy, during delivery or during breastfeeding.

The bishop, like others who don't appear to think or speak rationally on the subject of HIV, seems quite confused about whether he is referring to religion, morality, science or 'nature' (calling something natural or unnatural is a value judgement). As to his "sympathy" and "solidarity", I imagine these would be of little comfort to the victims of his airing of these extremely prejudiced views.

The article about Leonard concludes with a quotation from him on homosexuality: "homosexuality is not the same as normal sex, in the same way that anorexia is not a normal appetite." But he must wonder why only some homosexuality results in illness and death, whereas all anorexia is illness and often results in death. Indeed, if he often has these contemplative moods, he should consider why so many African women are being punished for something that a lot of European men have not been punished for.

The bishop is not just wrong, what he is saying about HIV is dangerous. There are people who believe the sort of things that he says, perhaps others who want to believe them. HIV is also transmitted non-sexually, this is widely accepted (though not widely enough). It is despicable to pretend that it is purely sexually transmitted and to use the phenomenon as a 'moral lesson' to humanity. Even if the Catholic Church were some kind of shining beacon of goodness and leadership, their representatives do not have the right to punish people who are sick, suffering and dying.


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