Medical Journal Hit for Misstating Church's Work in AIDS

Caritas Adviser Sends Letter of Protest to The Lancet

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ROME, MARCH 21, 2005 ( A representative of Caritas Internationalis sent a letter of protest to the editor of The Lancet to correct the medical journal’s misinterpretations of the Church’s struggle against AIDS.

The letter, sent Sunday by Father Robert Vitillo, special adviser on HIV and AIDS, analyzes an editorial entitled «The Pope’s Grievous Errors» and published in the British journal’s March 12 issue.

«While you give half-hearted but completely inadequate recognition to the Catholic Church’s early, consistent and comprehensive response of care and treatment to those living with HIV and AIDS, you totally misrepresent its efforts to prevent the further spread of this infection,» the priest wrote.

«You completely ignore the fact that the two methods promoted by the Catholic Church — sexual abstinence outside marriage and fidelity within marriage — are legitimate means of HIV prevention, proven by reputable scientific research to have contributed to the containment and decrease of HIV-infection levels in several countries (cf. ‘Rethinking AIDS Prevention,’ by Edward C. Green, Praeger Publications),» states the letter.

«You presume that the Catholic Church and UNAIDS do not engage in meaningful communication when, in fact, the opposite is the case,» adds Father Vitillo.

«In 1999, UNAIDS established a Memorandum of Understanding with Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based confederation of Catholic relief, development and social services agencies based in 162 countries of the world (and, I might add, supporting or operating HIV and AIDS programs in 102 countries of the world),» he explains.

«Since that time, these two organizations have collaborated closely to strengthen HIV and AIDS education programs, especially for young people, to reduce stigma and discrimination, and to deliver HIV and AIDS services where they are most needed — particularly in rural areas of developing countries which often do not enjoy health care coverage sponsored either by governments or by multilateral or other nongovernmental organizations,» continues the letter.

«Moreover, the Vatican’s diplomatic observer mission relating to the United Nations and Specialized Agencies in Geneva enjoys excellent and frequent communication and collaboration with UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,» notes the priest.

«Your personal attacks on Pope John Paul II are totally unjustified. He was first among high-profile religious leaders to embrace and dialogue with people living with HIV and AIDS,» Father Vitillo writes.

He continues that the Pope’s «social doctrine seriously advanced the vision of both religious and public health officials to make anti-retroviral treatment accessible to people living with HIV and AIDS in low-income countries. Recently, he established the Good Samaritan Foundation to complement the Church’s words with tangible financial resources that can assist in providing such treatment to the neediest populations.»

The letter concludes: «The Lancet should reserve its activities to what it does best — communicating the latest findings and developments in the fields of scientific research and clinical treatment. It should not attempt to make itself a judge or arbiter of ‘ecclesiastical error’ or of ‘clerical compassion.'»

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