The following is a message from Fr. Tom, DignityUSA National AIDS Project Chair:
The headlines running in papers in throughout the U.S. have ranged from "Priests Infected with HIV/AIDS Dying at Alarming 7% Rate Higher than National Average" to "Priests Infecting Each Other and Parishioners with HIV/AIDS." No matter what Chapter or city you are in there has no doubt been some coverage of a three-part article that first appeared in Kansas City Star. It is still remains an unanswered question as to why the paper chose to run such an article 18 years into the pandemic.
This article and the resulting comments made in the press throughout the U.S. is something I feel compelled to bring to your attention. I have been asked by several, "What is DignityUSA's response?" I have spoken with our national president Mary Louise Cervone, and Marianne Duddy, our Executive Director has written an "Op Ed" column. It is our belief that our best avenue for comment is through the local and national press and to this end I am including this article. This issue has caused a considerable backlash directed at priests who are either living with HIV/AIDS or involved in supportive ministries. I am asking that you please consider transmitting this article to your local press for publication along information regarding your Chapters for contact purposes. Should you need additional information or should local press desire an interview with national staff, Marianne, Mary Louise and I are willing to speak with media on the topic.
I am currently working closely with ABC's 20/20 to prepare a positive story for airing on their program in the near future. This story will not be of a tabloid nature but rather seeks to provide positive images of priests living with HIV/AIDS and continuing their ministries. I, along with a number of other concerned national figures have questioned the outcome and conclusions, as well as the validity of the statistical analysis of the responses to the KC Star's survey. The staff at 20/20 are in agreement with the questionable nature of the conclusions in the study and are looking for priests who participated in the survey or who are HIV+ and willing to speak on camera. They are willing to offer a variety of options for anonymity for the priests but as of yet no one has been willing. In speaking to a number of priests and counselors who are involved in HIV/AIDS ministry, we have found that priests and clergy have been driven further into the closet of fear as an outcome of the KC Star story. I would ask that if you as a Chapter leader know of an HIV+ priest who is willing to speak to the staff of 20/20 to please contact me at TWOSA@AOL.COM or through the national office.
The AIDS pandemic continues to grow at an alarming rate even in the face of numerous new drug therapies. So also does the level of complacency. Our Chapters can help in stopping the alarm raised by these breaking news stories and provide positive safe spaces for men and women living with HIV/AIDS, their families and yes, even their religious ministers.
Please consider contacting your local news outlets and providing them with the "Op Ed" article that follows. If you have questions, please direct them to DignityUSA National AIDS Project at TWOSA@AOL.COM or through the national office.