The appearance of the infectious disease known as AIDS heralds a great suffering. It has also rapidly become a pressing challenge to the human family. Although not yet widespread in New Zealand, the disease is sufficiently grave to concern all who have the welfare of people at heart.
Catholics have an obligation to confront this new suffering with loving and practical care for people with AIDS and their families, and by ensuring education about AIDS is complete and truthful. This pastoral letter is for the Catholic community and for everyone who wishes to address the AIDS disease with honesty and respect for human dignity.
The Care of People with AIDS and their Families
Increasing numbers of people diagnosed as having the HIV virus, and people whose behaviour has put them at risk, live under a cloud of fear.
They - and their families - have a right to all the care that can be given, all the compassion and understanding possible. The very nature of the disease, and the stigma associated with it, place an urgent claim on Christian love.
In Western countries, the primary victims of the disease are homosexual males or persons addicted to drugs. It involves individuals in their own particular world of loneliness and fragile, often transitory relationships. Their human dignity requires us to be with them in their need, in a relationship of love and compassion. For their part, they have the duty not to spread the disease.
A Word to Young People
Young men and women, do not be taken in by those who promise happiness and fulfillment from selfish pleasure, or tell you your sexuality is a plaything for instant and constant gratification. There are many such voices, disguised as reality in the audio-visual world of commercials and in the fast-paced lifestyles that demand immediacy. They do not speak the truth.
Your sexuality is a special and wondrous gift that can make life rich and satisfying. This life is not and cannot be "instant". It comes with self-discipline, is developed through chastity and usually leads to its fullest expression in the loving relationship of marriage.
Abstaining from sexual relations outside of marriage is the only way to uphold your dignity and to find the lasting happiness God means you to have. It is the best preparation for marriage and the only sure way to avoid all sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence is saying "yes" to your own future, to your future spouse and to your ability to love and express love.
You are also influenced by a drug culture that invites you to escape the pressures and challenges of life, by giving yourself to "mind-bending" and "freeing" experiences through the use of drugs. Do not be fooled by this enticement to pleasure and freedom. It is a trap, opening only to darkness, disillusionment and loss of identity.
If you really care about yourself, you will not want to expose yourself to risks that put your physical and mental life in danger, and threaten to destroy the very happiness you seek.
Christian Family Life Education (CFLE) is already playing a part in helping young Catholic people appreciate their personal worth and to value their Catholic heritage. We commend this work, as we do everyone helping to develop positive attitudes to sexuality that lead young people to a healthy respect for themselves and their relationships.
Education about AIDS
In fighting AIDS the only true effective measure is prevention. This means abstaining from sexual activity outside marriage and from the misuse of drugs. Both from a medical and ethical point of view, personal moral standards of behaviour, not "safe sex" practices, are the answer to AIDS.
Health authorities agree that abstinence is the only absolute precaution against the disease. Mistakenly permissive attitudes to disordered sexuality prevail in New Zealand today. The outcome is an almost unstoppable growth in sexually transmitted diseases, of which AIDS is one. Our genuine concern for human well-being combines with Christian moral teaching to put a radical challenge to the permissive society.
Attitudes and practices in regard to sexual behaviour and the use of drugs need to be revised. This might be difficult, but it is not impossible.
We are already changing deep-rooted social habits in eating, drinking and smoking. Campaigns of public education about AIDS ought to encourage self-discipline, restraint and a new awareness of the dignity of persons. On this there can be neither doubt nor compromise. Even though not all persons at risk are involved in multiple sexual relations, promiscuity and sexual permissiveness invite the spread of AIDS. A life of chastity, marital fidelity and temperance are a necessary part of the solution.
It is medically misleading, as well as morally wrong, to suggest that the use of condoms is the solution for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Being content with inadequate preventative means does not touch the root of the problem. It amounts to a refusal to take either the disease or personal responsibility seriously. Homosexual practice is against God's design and ultimately demeans true humanity. However, we must not allow the prevalence of AIDS to become the occasion of persecuting people of homosexual orientation. AIDS is not the punishment of God on those who have not lived according to the moral order given by God.
However, it is clear that the misuse of natural God-given sexual faculties can also bring its own sad consequences.
Compassion for the suffering of homosexual people in whatever affliction, including AIDS, does not condone promiscuity or diminish the value of marriage and married fidelity. Neither does it mean an acceptance of immoral activities or attitudes.
What Do We Do?
(a) As members of the Catholic Church and people of goodwill, we must:
- be a sign of God's love, and witness the good news of God's goodness and love for every person;
- recognise the dignity and inestimable worth of each person, regardless of the cause of their sickness or suffering;
- accept that AIDS sufferers and their families have a claim on both our material and spiritual assistance;
- uphold the ideal of chastity and esteem the sacredness of marriage.
(b) As followers of Jesus Christ and members of his Church, we must:
- present clearly our moral teaching as the only sure precaution against AIDS;
- find new and more effective ways of bringing spiritual, pastoral and human support to people in their marriages;
- be practical in our support for individuals and families affected by the disease;
- regularly commend those who have AIDS and their families to the care and mercy of God in our personal and liturgical prayer;
- ensure that all young people are guided to a correct perspective of human sexuality. This calls for the co-operation of parents, teachers, clergy and pastoral workers;
- be vigilant against being taken in by publicity and promotions which approve pre-marital and extra-marital sexual activity and seem to advocate promiscuity.
The appearance of AIDS in New Zealand causes us to think again about basic truths and values, and to reaffirm the essential qualities of self-discipline, chastity and faithfulness.