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January 31, 2000 09:57am
Church Calls U.S. Priests' AIDS Deaths No Surprise
Source: Reuters

(KANSAS CITY, MO) -- A report that hundreds of Catholic priests in America have died of AIDS is ``sad'' and a ''disappointment'' but not necessarily a surprise because the disease is so pervasive in society in general, Catholic Church officials said on Monday.

The statements by Catholic officials came in response to a nationwide investigation by the Kansas City Star newspaper -- a three-part series running from Sunday to Tuesday -- that found Catholic priests were dying of AIDS at a rate far higher than the general U.S. population.

Calling AIDS the ``black plague of our times,'' Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop James Keleher said in a statement, ``It is no wonder that it (AIDS) has also touched Catholic clergy as well as ministers of other churches. But no matter how few clergy it has infected this is surely very sad.''

Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City in Missouri, said though priests take a vow of celibacy, the church is aware that not all priests are celibate. She said while the Star's findings were a ``disappointment,'' they were not necessarily a surprise.

``You have to look at society in general. Why would we say they (priests) would not mirror what is in the society?'' she asked.

In its investigation, the Star reported that at least 300 Catholic priests have died of AIDS since the mid-1980s, an annualized death rate at least four times that of the general U.S. population. The newspaper confirmed that the annualized AIDS death rate of priests in Kansas and Missouri from 1987 to 1999 was seven times that of the general population.

The newspaper's story was based on an 18-month investigation that included 800 responses from a national survey of 3,000 Catholic priests, as well as an analysis of health statistics, a review of death certificates and interviews with hundreds of priests, church officials and AIDS experts across the United States.

According to several sources quoted by the Star, many of the priests who died were infected through sexual activity, including homosexual acts.

The newspaper report said many Catholic clergy blamed church practices, including a lack of sexual education, for the spread of the disease in their ranks.

But Summers said current church practices in seminaries include thorough discussion of sexuality as well as an analysis of a potential priest's psychological and medical background.

Given the sensitivity of the issue, many priests kept their illness a secret and the information on some death certificates was falsified, the Star reported.

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