Human dignity guides Church’s AIDS work in Philippines and worldwide

The alarming spread of HIV in the Philippines must be addressed with an approach that puts human dignity and responsibility first, a top Church adviser on the AIDS epidemic told the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

“In the Philippines, as in all countries of the world, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has focused on the dignity of the human person and on the responsibility that such dignity entails in caring for oneself and all other persons,” Monsignor Robert Vitillo said in a recent interview.

Portrayed by critics as a set of “conservative” taboos, the Church’s ethical teachings actually offer the only authentic solution to the epidemic in a country where infection rates have dramatically risen, Caritas Internationalis’ special adviser on HIV and AIDS said.

Msgr. Vitillo’s comments came on the last day of the July 22-27 XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.  During the global conference, the Church came under fire from critics for its approach to AIDS in the heavily Catholic Philippines, where the United Nations Development Program says HIV infections have increased by 25 percent since 2001.

“Catholics For Choice” adviser Magdalena Lopez, who also spoke at the International AIDS Conference, alleged in a July 24 editorial that the Church “inhibits AIDS work” in the Philippines.

Msgr. Vitillo told CNA/EWTN News that this kind of “false allegation” against the Church’s AIDS strategy stemmed from a “mechanistic” focus on managing inherently harmful behaviors, to the neglect of human dignity and true responsibility.

“In most parts of the world,” Msgr. Vitillo recalled, “the Church was among the first organizations to promote a compassionate and non-discriminatory response to HIV,” taking in many seriously ill patients who “were rejected even by their own families.”

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Msgr. Robert Vitillo is Caritas Internationalis' special adviser on HIV and AIDS.