February 23, 2010
Roman Catholic Church scholars believe Albany's diocese is the only one in the United States offering a needle-exchange program. Citing medical evidence that NEPs save lives by preventing blood-borne infections through needle sharing, the diocese this year launched "Project Safe Point" exchanges in two upstate locations through the local branch of Catholic Charities.
"To guide us, the church provides us with the principles of licit cooperation in evil and the counseling of the lesser evil," the diocese said in a statement. "The sponsorship of Catholic Charities in Safe Point, then, is based upon the church's standard moral principles."
Catholic theologians, however, are divided in their evaluation of the intervention. Those who oppose church-sponsored NEPs say the practice could cause scandal -- that is, present a muddled message about the church's opposition to drug abuse.
"But scandal can cut both ways," said the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and a physician who treats AIDS patients, many of whom were infected through needle sharing, in Boston. "If we know programs are scientifically validated to save lives, then condemning them can be more scandalous than the possibility of being seen to condone drug use."
"It's been 20 years since the bishops' statement," Fuller said in reference to a 1990 US Conference of Catholic Bishops' document that raised numerous concerns about NEPs, including whether they "send the message that intravenous drug use can be made safe." "It's time to come to a new reflection," Fuller said.
Edward Peters, a professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, is not convinced. "Enabling someone to do an evil act is, in no way, shape or form, ever to help that person. This is elemental moral theology," he said.
Boston College theologian the Rev. James Keenan in 2000 persuaded the nondenominational Society of Christian Ethics to pass a resolution supporting NEPs.