June 25, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - It was a distressing report from the Center for Disease Control — 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 most 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 percent of the U.S. population, in 2009 MSM accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States and 79 percent of all infections among newly infected men. In 2010, this rate of diagnosis among MSM remained unchanged at 61 percent and 78 percent respectively.
By the end of 2009 there were an estimated 784,701 persons in the United States living with an HIV diagnosis and 51 percent of these were MSM. Similarly, 51 percent of AIDS diagnoses were among MSM. From 2006-09 infection rates of young men increased 34 percent. Nearly half of infections are in white males, while 30 percent are black/African American, and 19 percent are Hispanic. By the end of 2009, nearly 300,000 MSM had died from AIDS.
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In the United States, 2 percent of the population — those who engage in homosexual acts — account for 61 percent of all new HIV infections; 19 percent 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 brother’s 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 XVI has repeatedly emphasized that a medical response is necessary but insufficient. Speaking of the crisis he says, “Above 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,” No. 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, “[F]rom 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.