US Catholic Faith in Real Life

HIV: Not a punishment, not justice, just a disease

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Sometimes bishops say the stupidest things. Of course so do journalists and presidents and moms and teachers and everyone else, but jeez. What on earth possessed the primate of Belgium, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Bruges, to suggest once again, 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, that this disease is somehow nature's retribution against sinners?

In his own words, as published in a recent book and reported by the Associated Press: "When you mistreat the environment it ends up mistreating us in turn. And when you mistreat human love, perhaps it winds up taking vengeance." And later: "All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions," the archbishop said, saying of AIDS, "this epidemic is a sort of intrinsic justice."

It's not that I'm against talking about the possible consequences of sexual behavior--and HIV infection is one of them. But to suggest that a terrible disease that is ravaging the women and children of Africa especially is a kind of "intrinsic justice" is to speak blasphemously by suggesting that God is somehow the author of this nightmare. It is an exceedingly cruel thing to say to those with the disease, and shows great ignorance about who HIV/AIDS affects and how it is transmitted.

I argued in my December 2008 column that the church needs to rethink it's HIV prevention strategy, deploying good science to complement good teaching about the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. I'm not sure I have the right answers either, but I for one do not serve a God who punishes people with insidious retroviral bioweapons. Enough with this clumsy theological nonsense.