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Lecturers discuss AIDS epidemic

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, December 1, 2005

In observance of the United Nations World Aids Day today, the Center for Social Concerns sponsored a three-person lecture entitled “Catholicism and the Fight Against AIDS,” Wednesday in the LaFortune Ballroom.

Rev. Paulinus Odozor, a Catholic moral theologian and associate professor of theology at Notre Dame, spoke first, focusing on the official Catholic position on AIDS. Odozor said the Catholic stance includes the conviction that HIV/AIDS is an extremely serious issue, and that God loves everyone unconditionally.

“HIV/AIDS must not and cannot be considered God’s punishment for any particular lifestyle or sin,” he said. “All persons, including those with [HIV/AIDS] are God’s children.”

The panelists all spent some of their time stressing the severity, prevalence and pain of HIV/AIDS.

“If you ever see one young, healthy vital person die of this disease, you never, ever … want to see it happen again,” Rev. James Foster, C.S.C, M.D. said.

Life expectancy has dropped below 40 years old in nine African countries, said Adrian Curry, the director of Catholic Relief Services in the Archdiocese of Chicago and final speaker of the night.

“Today, the global picture of HIV/AIDS is bleak. In the two decades since the epidemic began, over 20 million people around the world have died,” she said. “In 2004, 2.4 million Africans died from complications of AIDS, and over 4.9 million were infected.”

Curry continued her discussion with similarly overwhelming statistics, many of which concerned underdeveloped areas of the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, some 25 million people are living with HIV, she said.

The subject of poverty was a common denominator for all the speakers due to the remarkable correlation between failing economies and HIV/AIDS, which Foster stressed.

“The issue is poverty. The issue is economic injustice. That’s what needs to be addressed,” he said.

Odozor’s views were strikingly similar.

“Ninety percent of people infected with HIV live in developing countries,” he said. “A … decisive factor in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS is the fight against poverty and destitution.”

Foster’s position as both a doctor and a reverend provides him with a unique perspective on the debate about which mode of AIDS prevention should be stressed – condom use or abstinence. The position of the Catholic Church clearly supports the latter and prohibits the former.

The argument against condom use regarding HIV/AIDS is that it could worsen the situation by creating what Foster described as a “contraceptive mentality,” or a “promiscuous society.”

There is, however, a flipside to the “faith-based” argument.

“The abstinence view is criticized because it doesn’t seem … to connect with the reality and the lived experience of people,” Foster said. “It doesn’t offer any alternative.”

Foster mentioned the ABC approach to fighting AIDS – Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condoms, in order of preference.

“Safe sex is abstinence,” he said.

On the issue of condom use, Foster said there is a middle ground. He believes it would be malpractice for a doctor today to fail to at least mention condoms as a way to battle AIDS, but that it would also be malpractice to pass condoms out “as if they were candy.”

A better approach than ABC, Foster said, would be a more personal one, one that truly connects to individuals.

Each speaker talked for about 20 minutes, and due to time constraints, a planned question and answer session was called off. Another discussion will take place today in the LaFortune Ballroom as further observation of World AIDS Day, and Odozor said everyone should do their part in the battle against AIDS without discrimination.

“In [this fight] all hands must be on deck,” Odozor said. “There is no room for name-calling.”