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AIDS rate appears higher in priests

Hundreds of priests have died from the disease since 1980’s

By The Associated Press


KANSAS CITY, Mo – Roman Catholic priests in the United States are dying from AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than the general population, and the cause is often concealed on their death certificates, The Kansas City Star reported Sunday.

In the first of a three-part series, the newspaper said death certificates and interviews with experts indicated several hundred priests have died of AIDS related illness since the mid-1980s and hundreds more are living with HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

“I think this speaks to a failure on the part of the church,” as Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “Gay priest and heterosexual priests didn’t know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive.  And so they would handle it in ways that were not healthy.”

The Star received 801 responses to questionnaires that were sent last fall to 3000 of 46,000 priests in the United States.  The margin of error of the survey was 3.5 percentage points.

Six of the 10 priests responding said they knew of at least one priest who had died of a AIDS-related illness, and one third knew a priest living with AIDS.  Three-fourths said the church needed to provide more education to seminarians on sexual issues. 

“Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn’t know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive”

  Thomas Gumbleton

  Auxiliary bishop of Archdiocese of Detroit

“How to be celibate and to be gay at the same time, and how to be celibate and heterosexual at the same time, that’s what we were never taught how to do. 

And that was major failing.” Gumbleton said. 

The Rev. John Keenan, who runs Trinity House, an outpatient clinic in Chicago for priests, said he believes most priests with AIDS contracted the disease through same-sex relations.  He said he treated one priest who had infected eight other priests.

The Star said precise numbers of priests who have died of AIDS or become infected with HIV is unknown, partly because many suffer in solitude.  When priests tell their superiors, the cases generally are handled quietly.

The newspaper cited the case of Bishop Emerson Moore, who left the Archdiocese of New York in 1995 and went to Minnesota, where he died in a hospice of an AIDS-related illness.  His death certificate attributed the death to “unknown natural causes” and listed his occupation as “laborer” in the manufacturing industry.