Beyond Condoms in the AIDS Debate
Interview With Caritas Expert on HIV
By Karna Swanson
MEXICO CITY, JULY 31, 2008 (Zenit.org).- 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 with ZENIT, 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.