African Clerics Acknowledge They've Failed to Combat AIDS
June 11, 2002
A broad array of African religious leaders gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday to acknowledge that they have been far too silent as AIDS swept through their congregations. "We have not done enough," said Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He was joined by more than 100 other religious leaders representing 30 countries at a conference on the role of religion in combating AIDS.
The religious leaders vowed to urge their followers to show compassion to the casualties of HIV/AIDS, especially to AIDS orphans. "Some leaders are still afraid of them," said the Rev. Jane Nuthu, who runs a program for street children.
Advocates for AIDS patients have long complained that many religious leaders in Africa, where the disease is at its worst, have approached AIDS tentatively, often castigating those who contract the virus rather than comforting them.
Though not the first such conference, it was one of the largest interfaith gatherings of African religious leaders to discuss AIDS. Organizers acknowledged that it will take real changes in attitude, not just holding conferences, to reduce the rate of infection. Participants in the gathering, organized by the World Conference on Religion and Peace, circulated a draft declaration of principles acknowledging shortcomings.
"We have been reluctant to speak openly about HIV/AIDS and have thus at times contributed to the silence and stigma that surround the disease," the draft says. "We have allowed fear and denial to prevent us from getting good information and education about HIV/AIDS and, in turn, sharing that information with the members of our conference."
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said it is not realistic to expect all of the leaders to agree about contentious issues such as using condoms. But she said religious leaders have a unique ability to raise issues of sexuality with their followers. Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan and others said abstinence was the answer. "Those who don't promote condoms should not be seen as uninterested in HIV/AIDS," said Onaiyekan.
New York Times
06.11.02; Marc Lacey
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.