On January 9, Ray Ruddy, president of Boston’s Gerard Health Foundation, wrote a letter to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia asking him to disavow or retract a Georgetown report entitled “Faith Communities Engage the HIV/AIDS Crisis.”
The report, published in November by Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs, criticizes faith-based approaches requiring changes in sexual behavior in fighting HIV/AIDS.
Ruddy asked a Harvard expert on HIV/AIDS prevention, Dr. Edward C. Green, to review Georgetown’s document, which promotes condom usage — in spite of Church teaching — over behavioral changes. Dr. Green, a former condom marketer, is the author of Rethinking AIDS Prevention and is neither a member of any religious denomination nor attends any church.
Green was stunned by the way the Georgetown University report, as Ruddy puts it, “castigates the Catholic Church in particular and the faith based community in general.” Green concludes that the authors of the report — Lucy Keough and Katherine Marshall — express an anti-Catholic bias.
According to Green, Keough and Marshall ignore the scientific evidence showing it is behavioral change, not condom use, that has prevented an HIV/AIDS epidemic. That a change in sexual behavior is the key to limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS was also the conclusion reached by Dr. Norman Heart in his 2003 UNAIDS study of condom effectiveness.
Tragically, Green predicts that if the recommendations of the Georgetown Report are followed, millions more will be infected, and perhaps die, of HIV/AIDS.
In asking President DeGioia to disavow or retract the report, Ruddy’s letter concludes, “It seems incredible to many of us that the Catholic Church in general and the Jesuits in particular would permit such an inaccurate and misleading report to be published.”
Ruddy’s request to DeGioia should also prompt him to review the three future reports on children, shelter, and education already announced by the Berkley Center authors: This is the “first in a series of reports to illuminate the little-understood role that religious actors play in global development.”
Green finds that Keough and Marshall do not present “the perspective of faith communities, but rather their own view, a view that is frequently drastically out of sync with the faith communities whose perspective they claim to present.”
The Georgetown authors are so uncomfortable with faith-based approaches to HIV prevention that they fail to recognize that changes in sexual behavior, not condom use, are responsible for the decline in HIV in over ten countries around the world (most notably Uganda).
Regarding Uganda, the Georgetown report gets “the story all wrong: they emphasize the role of increasing condom use in bringing down Uganda’s HIV rates and downplay the dramatic increase in the number of people reporting abstinence and faithfulness behaviors.”
Whereas the scientific evidence points to the success of the faith community’s message about behavioral change, the Georgetown report criticizes these messages for stigmatizing those with HIV/AIDS as suffering “retribution” for “sinful behavior.”
Keough and Marshall don’t see faith-based efforts in a positive light. Why? According to their report:
Faith hierarchies, leaders, and communities have in the past often been promoters of stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, partly because of their difficulty in confronting aspects of human sexuality and partly because they often assume a link between AIDS and what they regard as sinful activities.
Green thinks that authors Keough and Marshall, in failing to appreciate the importance of behavior changes, support the “financial self-interest of contractors and grantees that benefit from the multi-billion dollar global AIDS industry.”
For Green, the scientific evidence shows that it is not medical products, such as condoms, that can be credited with limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS:
If AIDS prevention is to be based on evidence rather than consensus, ideology, or bias, then fidelity and abstinence programs, in that order, need to be front and center in AIDS prevention programs for general populations.
But these kinds of behavior-based programs have been “mysteriously absent in programs supported by the major Western donors and by AIDS celebrities.” To these donors and celebrities, we can now add Georgetown University, unless President DeGioia responds to Ruddy’s letter and disavows the report or asks the Berkley Center to retract it.
As Dr. Green puts it, the Church has an advantage in “promoting the needed types of behavior change, since these behaviors conform to the moral, ethical, and scriptural positions and teachings of virtually all religions.”
Yet, Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, has issued a report that markedly rejects not only the scientific evidence that behavior changes are the best way to fight HIV/AIDS but also the moral teaching of its professed faith.