| Religion, sexuality and HIV/AIDS have hardly been used in the same sentence without evoking heated debate or deep interest. Karl Marx said “…religion is the opium of the people”, but sceptics and concerned individuals alike, are less sanguine about how realistic or influential the Church has been in addressing some of the most taboo issues today.
Whether it has been homosexuality, hot sexual controversies about misconduct or just their faith-based avocation of alternative methods of contraception, the Catholic Church has been under the searing eyes of the media and the worldwide populace over the last five years.
Until recently, there has not been much concern about the Catholic Church’s role in paralysing the monstrous Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) scourge that has been plaguing many developing nations in the Caribbean as well as Sub-Sahara Africa. But these countries together account for 77% of the global distribution of HIV/AIDS and has a vast percentage of their populations subscribing to the Catholic faith. (Source: United Nations AIDS data 2002). Dr. Nancy Muturi, Senior Lecturer at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication at the University of the West Indies and research fellow with the American Association of University Women (AAVW) and the University of Iowa contends that much of the valuable information put out by other social and international health groups “have been lost in translation and jargon”. Doctors are administering potent elixirs, cures are being sought, non-profit organisations of different kinds are mounting blockades but what is the Catholic Church doing to sedate this deadly monster?
Despite the unprecedented progress in scientific and medical techniques that has been drawn to attack this disease, professional communicators in the media agree that that these approaches are too generalised to allow for any meaningful progress in the fight. With the turn of the academic mill, new approaches towards the fight against the virus has surfaced, but approaches advocated by the World Health Organizations and other bodies have been reactive rather than proactive. Officials are now calling on the Catholic Church to adjust their views on contraception and sexuality to assist in the fight against AIDS.
In fact, Dr. Nancy Muturi advices that her work as a communicator and researcher in behavioural change is one key step towards a sustainable approach towards fighting AIDS and cites that popular social institutions such as the Catholic church are likely to be most influential. However, she is adamant that “…the Roman Catholic Church is an obstacle in the fight against HIV/AIDS”. Additionally, she further explains that this denomination is not doing enough and is in fact hindering progress in the fight against AIDS, largely through their beliefs on contraception, their laid back attitude towards homosexuality within their pews and at their altars as well as abstinence which she calls a “one size fits all approach that is to generalised to be of any meaningful effect”.
Father Gerard Leo McLaughlin, renowned Catholic priest in Jamaica gives a flip side to this coin. He asserts that he is livid about the existence of perverse priests in the Catholic Church, and even more so about the fact that member of organisations as well as the general public would even think that the Catholic Church would have any hand in propelling the spread of AIDS. He cogently points out that “…the Catholic Church is a religious body with many individuals and sinners”. With respect to the Church’s stance on AIDS, Father McLaughlin says “…it is a dilemma for everyone…the Catholic Church is doing humanitarian work for AIDS victims…to ask for more is remiss”.
Researchers such Johan Viljohen agree that the famous document called the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the solemn declaration of the Catholic faith is not aligned with the world’s reality. This controversial document declared that any form of modern contraception is “absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” However, when the encyclical was announced, Vatican officials made it clear that it was not infallible; since then, many church officials have called for a revision of the document or advised couples to follow their consciences regarding the encyclical. Father McLaughlin believes that the Catholic Church should not be made to revise its beliefs to suit any AIDS epidemic or notions on alternative sexual lifestyles, “…with or without the Humanae Vitae, no faith should agree to remodel its religious basis to suit the times…faith is not fashion, it is forever and infallible”.
In what appears to be just banter between two schools of thought; the Catholic Church and Science, there are a plethora of conflicting stances. Mrs. Donna Scott-Mottley, Attorney-at-Law, equates the dilemma to be one of legal proportions that could see the Catholic Church in the courtroom in the very near future. “It is not just the Catholic Church that will be prosecuted, but the media that has been having a field day in defaming even innocent priests”. She says that it will take a while before the issue comes to such a climax, but it is in the horizon.
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