Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Belgian Roman Catholic Church, called a press conference Friday following outrage over remarks he made that AIDS is "sort of inherent justice."
In a recently published book, Leonard said he understood from numerous scientific papers that "AIDS at the beginning multiplied through sexual behavior with all sorts of partners or else through anal rather than vaginal sexual rapports." In the book, a Dutch translation of a 2006 book in French that already caused uproar, he rejects the notion that AIDS is "a punishment from God," instead "this epidemic is sort of intrinsic justice, not at all a punishment."
"All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions," said the archbishop. "I believe this is a totally decent, honorable and respectable stance."
Leonard assumed leadership of the Belgian Catholic Church from the Bishop of Bruges, who resigned in April after admitting sexual abuse. Just weeks ago, a church commission revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.
At the press conference, Leonard said "HIV carriers merit respect" and "must not suffer discrimination."
HIV activists, gay advocates, and political party operatives quickly denounced Leonard's remarks. "It is unacceptable to say that people who are HIV-positive merited it," said Thierry Martin, head of the anti-AIDS group Prevention SIDA.