US Bishops, Charity Group Welcome AIDS Program

Laud Retention of “Conscience Clause” in Funding Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 29, 2008 ( U.S. bishops and the aid organization Catholic Relief Services welcomed the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Congress passed PEPFAR last week and President George Bush said Saturday he is eager to sign it.

Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said: “[The episcopal conference and Catholic Relief Services] welcome the bipartisan consensus reflected in this bill that preserves PEPFAR’s focus on its foundational goals of saving lives, caring for the infected and the affected, and preventing the spread of deadly disease.”

Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, praised the bill for strengthening PEPFAR programs to include addressing tuberculosis and malaria.

“These two debilitating, often deadly diseases seriously affect poor people in developing countries, especially those with HIV,” Hackett said. “We also appreciate a number of new provisions, including those that improve food and nutrition programs — vital components in treating and caring for HIV/AIDS patients as well as supporting the orphans and vulnerable children left in the wake of this disease.”

Both the bishops’ conference and the aid organization expressed appreciation at the retention of the “conscience clause,” which will help assure that Catholic and other faith-based organizations are not discriminated against as HIV/AIDS service providers.

That clause says that groups receiving funds do not have to offer prevention programs or provide care in ways they find morally unacceptable (such as promoting condom use), and that preference in funding cannot be given or denied based on these objections.

“We welcome the retention of abstinence, fidelity and partner reduction,” Bishop Wenski said, “which have proved highly effective in curbing the spread of HIV in many countries, as major components of HIV prevention education.”

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