AIDS story was told nationally long before Star series
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - The issue of "Aids in the Priesthood" had been reported in both the national and Catholic press long before the Kansas City Star launched its Jan. 30-Feb. 1 series.
As early as 1986, The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper based in Kansas City, published an in-depth examination on Catholic priests with AIDS.
Ten years later, the same newspaper reopened the issue with a cover story that examined many of the questions raised by the Star's series. The newspaper has reposted that story on its website, www.natcath.com.
The 1986 National Catholic Reporter story prompted a flood of media coverage that included newspapers, magazines and TV networks, and a series published March 4, 1987, by the National Catholic News Service, now Catholic News Service.
In that series, reporter Jerry Filteau wrote that the Reporter's story "began a media blitz in the past few months. . . . Some AIDS ministry specialists reported having been contacted by as many as 25 different news organizations."
In his series, Filteau interviewed then-Msgr. Raymond J. Boland, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and now bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on the question of priests with AIDS remaining silent out of shame.
"It would be a very ungrateful church that would turn a priest away" because he had AIDS, Bishop Boland said in 1987. "My own archbishop's (then-Archbishop James Hickey's) response would be, 'What do you need? What can we do for you?'"
Filteau's series was reprinted in Catholic newspapers across the country, including The Catholic Key.
One month after Filteau's series, the issue again broke in the national news media when Father Michael Peterson, a prominent Washington priest who founded St. Luke's Institute, a psychiatric hospital for priests, brothers and sisters in Suitland, Md., died of AIDS.
In his series, Filteau reported that "hard numbers are not even possible" on the incidence of AIDS among priests because the priests themselves and their families have chosen to keep the cause of death a secret.
Some priests died, Filteau reported, without ever informing their bishop or their religious order superior that they had AIDS. But in the series 13 years ago, Filteau quoted several sources, including many engaged in AIDS ministry, as saying that "where priests reveal to their bishop or superior that they have AIDS, they seem usually to meet with loving care."
Reports of individual priests suffering from AIDS have periodically appeared in the Catholic press.
In September 1987, Father Robert Arpin, a San Francisco priest dying of AIDS, was among several AIDS patients who met personally with Pope John Paul II during the pope's visit to that city.
In March 1989, Father Robert H. Kelly, 49, resigned as pastor of a suburban Phoenix parish when his illness would not allow him to continue.
"Father Kelly has been a devoted and energetic pastor," Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien wrote to his parishioners. "He has committed himself in service to you and, of course, loves you very much."
The concern shown to priests with AIDS is consistent with several statements written by church leaders at all levels on compassion toward the victims of the fatal illness.
In a joint statement issued in June 1989, Missouri's Catholic bishops denounced "policies of discrimination" that have "created needless hardships for HIV-infected persons."
Specifically, the Missouri bishops called for parishes to "model unconditional love and fidelity" towards AIDS patients, and stated that "children and youth who are HIV infected have the right to attend Catholic schools, religious education programs and day care centers."
Missouri's bishops also said that "AIDS education is essential. This includes a basic education in human sexuality which embraces the whole person. Moral, spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical aspects are vital elements to be considered in this context."