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Priest says AIDS fight must tackle 'sex object' culture

A Jesuit priest who is a member of the Federal Government's Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis has said it is culture, not condoms, that should occupy the minds of seeking a solution to AIDS.

Fr Michael Kelly, who is also CEO of Church Resources - which publishes CathNews - was responding to a challenge from a Melbourne AIDS activist, who told the publication Online Catholics that Fr Kelly's membership of the Committee implies support for the use of condoms.

"Pope John Paul II has consistently warned western societies of the dangers of excessive capitalism," said Fr Kelly. "Turning young men and women into sex objects for advertising purposes communicates to all other young people something particular about what the wider society regards as their real value."

Fr Kelly rejected the assertion of Australian AIDS Fund President Brian Haill that his membership of the Committee requires him to publicly repudiate the Church's opposition to condom use.

"The Church opposes condom use in part because their use does not address the cause of the problem, a deadly virus transmitted through sexual contact," he explained. "It is not an anti-sex argument to observe that our culture has been thoroughly over-sexualised largely for commercial gain."

Mr Haill said that it is up to the priest to choose to offer a "voice of reason and support", especially for women and girls.

"Fr Kelly has the critical opportunity, the vital obligation now, to speak up on the validity of condom usage, most especially in those cases where a spouse or partner is HIV infected."

The Australian AIDS Fund Inc was previously an agency of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Meanwhile Caritas Australia is highlighting the plight of women in Papua New Guinea, where AIDS is rapidly escalating among 14-19 year old girls. National Director Jack De Groot said this is consistent with the experience identified by the United Nations for women in countries confronting AIDS epidemics.

"In addition to their particular biological vulnerability to contracting HIV - studies show that women are 2.5 times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts - women and girls are confronted almost daily with their relative lack of control over personal health, well-being, and sexual activity, even within the context of marriage," Mr Jack de Groot said.

Caritas hosted a media conference yesterday to focus on the AIDS crisis facing Papua New Guinea. Madang-based HIV/AIDS counsellor Judy Michael, who is herself HIV positive, was joined by Sr Tarcisia Hunhoff, a member of the PNG National AIDS Council.

"I am here to raise awareness, so that we can control the disease and I am also here to thank the Australian people for their commitment to combating the spread of the disease in PNG," Ms Michael said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer warned in a statement issued by AUSAID representatives that HIV/AIDS is at "epidemic proportions in Papua New Guinea, threatening the country's development."

AusAID gave further details of a commitment it made last week to provide $2.9 million funding to combat AIDS through the Churches Partnership Program, which includes Caritas Australia.

"The advent of this partnership between Australia's aid program and seven church groups - the Churches Partnership Program - brings a valuable new resource to the fight against the spread of AIDS in PNG," Mr Downer said.

Mr de Groot stressed that Caritas Australia is deeply committed to combating AIDS in Papua New Guinea.

"Already rapid HIV tests have been distributed and funding for an HIV care and counselling centre has been provided in Madang. During the next nine months this initiative will be expanded to include three more HIV care centres across the country," Mr de Groot said.

"Caritas Australia, with support from AusAID, is also funding the position of an additional worker to work with Sr Tarcisia Hunhoff, National Catholic AIDS coordinator and the recruitment and training of 12 HIV Diocesan coordinators," he said.

In addition, Caritas Australia is providing funds for the development and adaptation of HIV/AIDS awareness raising materials relevant to Papua New Guinea and for a Youth Theatre Group to raise awareness in Bougainville.

Caritas is calling for donations to support its work in the fight against AIDS. The freecall telephone number is 1800 024 413

Caritas Australia welcomes effort to combat AIDS in PNG (Caritas Australia 30/11/04)
Catholics clash on World AIDS Day (Online Catholics 1/12/04)

Australian charity targets poverty in PNG AIDS fight (ABC News 30/11/04)
World AIDS Day 1st December 2004 (Caritas Australia)
Australian Government New Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis
World AIDS Day 1 December 2004
Australian AIDS Fund Inc
Drugs won't rid world of AIDS, says agency (Church Times 26/11/04)
Women more vulnerable to AIDS, Vatican official says (Catholic World News 30/11/04)
Churches sign AIDS code (Ekklesia 30/11/04)
Little Joyce: AIDS survivor (Catholic Mission 29/11/04)
Experts now say abstinence and fidelity key to stopping AIDS (Catholic News Agency 29/11/04)
Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care: Message for World Aids Day, 1 December 2004 (African Jesuit AIDS Network)
Vatican Message for World AIDS Day (Catholic Bishops Conference of India 24/11/04)
1 in 4 centers dedicated to treating HIV/AIDS in the world are Catholic, says Cardinal (Catholic News Agency 25/11/04)
Holy See calls for banishing of "social stigma" against AIDS victims (Catholic News Agency 25/11/04)
Vatican Message for World AIDS Day (Catholic Bishops Conference of India 24/11/04)
Cardinal calls for reduction in price of AIDS medicines (Ekklesia 25/11/04)
"Reduction of the price of the anti-viral drugs needed to treat HIV/AIDS patients; intensification of information campaigns in order to avoid mother/child transmission of the virus; greater attention for most vulnerable social groups." Message for World AIDS Day from the President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Health workers and the Sick (Fides 24/11/04)
Vatican calls for cheaper drugs to treat HIV/AIDS patients (Independent Catholic News/Fides 25/11/04)
AIDS Hits Women Harder, Warns Vatican (Zenit 24/11/04)
Vatican Message for World AIDS Day (Zenit 24/11/04)
Amid changing attitudes, Thai Catholics lead way in AIDS awareness (Catholic News Service 23/11/04)
Catholic-run center in Thailand helps AIDS patients survive, thrive (Catholic News Service

Christian Aid calls for urgent action in fight against AIDS (Independent Catholic News 24/11/04)
Australian charity targets poverty in PNG AIDS fight (ABC News 30/11/04)

31 Dec 2004