AIDS Among Clergy Challenges Catholic Establishment

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Roman Catholicism prides itself on its devotion to unbending morality. Even in an age oozing with the promise of consequence-free sex, the church preaches premarital chastity and crusades against birth control and abortion. But as the Kansas City Star reported Sunday, attempts to suppress the human sex drive can have devastating consequences. According to the Star, AIDS-related illnesses are killing Roman Catholic priests at a rate four times higher than in the general population, and many experts are blaming the church's staunch refusal to educate its members about sexuality and safe sex methods. Because while the average parishioner can pick and choose from the church's teachings, and find other means of education, priests and nuns have no such luxury; they are bound to their vows in every aspect of their lives.

"I think this [report] speaks to a failure on the part of the church," Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit told the Associated Press. "Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn't know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive. And so they would handle it in ways that weren't healthy." And the church would turn a blind eye — creating a sort of double closet for priests who are dealing not only with the sin of their sexuality but the doubly shameful sin of homosexuality. And while numerous sex scandals involving priests and young boys have surfaced in recent years, the Star story provides an irrefutable indicator that a large number of priests are sexually active — in relationships with other priests or with partners outside the church. It's unclear how or if these revelations will affect church recruitment efforts, already suffering considerably in the wake of the recent sex scandals.