An Authentic Response to a Devastating Crisis

It was a distressing report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) – a May 2012 update on HIV and AIDS among Gay and Bisexual Men. The report details the degree of HIV/AIDS infection in the population of men who have sex with men (MSM).

Though the report is both startling and disturbing, I am compelled to first echo the Church’s teaching that unjust discrimination toward human beings, including those who have deep seated homosexual inclinations, is never acceptable and must be decried wherever it occurs. Every human being should be treated with respect, his dignity honored, and his health and welfare protected and preserved. This is our obligation as Catholics.

Here are some of the sobering figures: Though they make up only 2% of the U.S.population, in 2009 MSM accounted for 61% of all new HIV infections in the USA and 79% of all infections among newly infected men. In 2010 this rate of diagnosis among MSM remained unchanged at 61% and 78% respectively.

By the end of 2009 there were an estimated 784,701 persons in theUnited Statesliving with an HIV diagnosis and 51% of these were MSM. Similarly, 51% of AIDS diagnoses were among MSM. From 2006-2009 infection rates of young men has increased 34%. Nearly half of infections are in white males, while 30% are black/African American, and 19% are Hispanic. By the end of 2009 nearly 300,000 MSM had died from AIDS.

In theUnited States, 2% of the population – those who engage in homosexual acts – accounts for 61% of all new HIV infections. 19% of this population is infected with HIV. This is truly startling and demands our attention. It is God’s words to Cain after he killed Abel that come to mind – “The voice of your brothers’ blood is crying to me from the ground.”

We must respond to this cry. A dignified response to the HIV/AIDS crisis is a human response that encourages moral behavior. Pope Benedict has repeatedly emphasized that a medical response is necessary but insufficient. Speaking of the crisis he says, “[a]bove all, it is an ethical problem. The change of behavior that it requires – for example, sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity…ultimately involves the question of integral development…For if it is to be effective, the prevention of AIDS must be based on a sex education that is itself grounded in an anthropology anchored in the natural law and enlightened by the word of God and the Church’s teaching” (Africae munus n. 72).

In other words, chastity, abstinence, and genuine friendship are essential. Somewhat surprisingly, the CDC report doesn’t entirely disagree with this as it states that HIV is caused by the kind of behavior engaged in by homosexual men, and while condom use is recommended, the CDC goes so far as to warn against the riskiest acts stating that avoiding them are “the most effective ways to prevent HIV.”

Unfortunately the response of the federal government has not emphasized abstinence and chastity. The projected 2012 budget allocated 21.5 billion dollars to HIV/AIDS in the United States. Of that, only 1 billion is directed toward prevention. A survey of the organizations that receive these monies indicates that little if any funds are slotted for abstinence education. It is, quite simply, not a part of the federal government’s response to the crisis.

Favored is an approach that stresses “risk reduction” including condoms, counseling, and testing rather than encouraging primary behavioral changes. The assumption seems to be that asking one to change his sexual behavior is unrealistic, and asks too much.

This is disastrously bad policy. As Matthew Hanley and Jokin de Irala noted in their book Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, “Therefore, from a purely pragmatic point of view, there remain large and serious concerns about the practical impact and efficacy of risk reduction strategies.”

An authentic response to the HIV/AIDS crisis is neither discrimination nor enabling silence. We owe love that recognizes the dignity of the human person, respects the sexual act as God intended it, and considers first the well-being of the other. A proper vision of sexuality must be encouraged and true friendship and compassion offered to those infected and those who struggle with deep-seated homosexual inclination.

This crisis begs for commitment to the moral law, respect for the inherent dignity of the person, and a greater recognition that each person is capable of choosing behavior that is both good for him and that allows for his flourishing.

Arland K. Nichols


Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • So this policy, in effect, sentences a great many men to death in the name of “tolerance.” It says: We’re so tolerant we don’t care if you die! What is the matter with people?

    • Jpct50

      Aha! It is the “policy” that is to blame….thanks for that illumination!

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    I am so sick and tired of hearing that “education” is the answer to everything.  As if human persons did not have the natural law accessible to them.  Natural law is written in the heart. 

    Homosexuals do not acquire HIV because of any purported lack of charity toward them on the part of heterosexuals.  Homosexuals form enclaves or closed “communities” because of the psychological principle of cognitive dissonance i.e. they do not want to expose themselves to any knowledge that interferes with their lifestyles.  They reinforce among one another the faulty notion that same sex behavior is a normal variant.  As long as they do this they will engage in high risk behavior because they insist this to be a norm and no one will deny them.  Same sex attraction is a dead end. 

    Yes, we ought to always be open to loving those with same sex attraction, as well as all others.  But we ought to be careful not to conspire with notions contrary to the the natural law.  Unfortunately, too many Catholics are also confused about the natural law – also accessible to them if they but allow themselves some time to reflect.

    • Usarownow

      The love we have for Homosexuals is…..unrequited, sadly, too sadly.

    • papagan

      But we ought to be careful not to conspire with notions contrary to the the natural law. Unfortunately, too many Catholics are also confused about the natural law – also accessible to them if they but allow themselves some time to reflect.

      In view of what you’ve written elsewhere about Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on human ecology (see comments following Dr. Lu’s essay ), it is far from clear that your own grasp of classical natural law theory is sound. 🙁

  • Henry

    Non-mathematical types may find it difficult to assimilate these statistics. In plain language, the fact–that the 2% of the population that is MSM constitutes a majority of the HIV-infected population–implies that practice of MSM sex multiplies an individual’s risk of HIV infection by about 50 (or more).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Actually, education programmes can have a remarkable effect.  In Uganda, the rate of HIV infection has fallen from a peak in 1991 of around 15 percent among all adults, and over 30 percent among pregnant women in the cities, to around 5 percent in 2001

    Of course, cultural factors play an even bigger rôle – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt all have rates below 0.1%.  

    • poetcomic1

       You can educate straight people in a village in Uganda but good luck ‘educating’ sophisticated gays in the Village.

  • GrahamCombs

    In the first decade of the century, the WSJ published a frontpage article on a San Francisco public health physician’s study that indicated that  various forms of the “blue pill” were being used for recreational sex and were lowering sexual inhibitions and caution and increasing the incidence of HIV positive patience.  Brave as that article was for a  national paper, I have heard nothing since.  These ostensibly ED medications were being used beyond what was considered wise by the pharmaceutical companies.  I lived in NY during the 80s and 90s and had thought experience and education had made a positive change.   Apparently not.   Of course sexual promiscuity for heterosexuals and homosexuals is not cautioned against by the medical profession.  We confront the paradox of liberals monitoring and regulating every aspect of life but essentially approving of sexual libertarianism.   As the Church experiments with legitimate pastoral outreach to gay men, she will have to confront this issue.

  • poetcomic1

    I remember living in New York in the nightmare years of the 1980’s when there was NO treatment for AIDS and it was a death sentence.  And who was the number one caretaker of indigent AIDS patients dying in agony, shunned, their benefits ‘maxed out’, often cut off from families…those ‘hateful and bigoted’ Catholic religious and our church charities.  Thousands died not alone and despises but with a loving face looking down at them and someone to hold their hand.