Magazine article The Christian Century

AIDS Rate Higher among Catholic Priests

Magazine article The Christian Century

AIDS Rate Higher among Catholic Priests

Article excerpt

A survey of Roman Catholic priests by the Kansas City Star has stunned many American Catholics with its finding that priests are dying of AIDS at a much higher rate than is to be found in the U.S. population as a whole. The survey results--implying that a significant number of priests are gay and not celibate--have prompted anger by some Catholics at "wayward clergy," while others are pleading with the church and its members to be more tolerant about the sexual orientation of those who serve the church.

The Star posted the random, confidential survey to 3,000 priests late last year, and 801--or 27 percent--responded. The results showed that:

* Seven respondents--about one in 114--said they either have HIV or AIDS or might have but had not been tested. This would translate into about 400 priests nationwide. In the general U.S. population, the average is between one in 300 and one in 420, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. (The National Catholic AIDS Network, established in 1989 to minister to those who suffer from HIV/AIDS, supports the survey's projected estimate.)

* Six of ten respondents said they knew at least one priest who had died of an AIDS-related illness.

* One-third of those surveyed knew a priest currently living with AIDS.

* Three-quarters of those responding described themselves as heterosexual, 15 percent said they were homosexual and 5 percent bisexual. The remainder declined to categorize themselves. By contrast, in the general population an estimated 5 to 10 percent are homosexual.

* Two-thirds of the respondents said that sexuality either was not addressed at all or not addressed enough in their theological training.

The survey also asked priests to describe the church's response in ministering to priests with HIV or AIDS. Sixty-five percent said the church had been caring and compassionate; 12 percent said the church took care of only the priests' basic needs; 2 percent said the church ignored priests, and another 2 percent said the church was judgmental and uncaring. …

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