Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Hireling Report #7

From The Catholic Register

August 15, 2005

Link to Original

D&P prepared for backlash over AIDS policy
The Catholic Register

The executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace says heÌs willing to take on conservative pressure groups as his agency develops a more aggressive HIV/AIDS policy for its projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

"If, as will inevitably happen, there will be controversy and discussion about this, well we've got to keep a cool head and we've got to keep everybody at the table. We've got to see if we can address this," said Michael Casey, Development and PeaceÌs executive director. "We will defend it, or try to engage in a positive awareness building."

Development and Peace’s image and fund-raising ability took a beating in a controversy over its participation in the International March of Women in 2000. An organized campaign against Development and Peace by conservative Catholic lobby groups accused the agency of promoting pro-abortion groups because those groups also participated in the March of Women.

That’s left the Canadian bishops’ development agency gun-shy when it comes to the issue of AIDS, said Casey, who has headed up the agency for less than a year.

“It’s really an area where it seems, from what I can gather, we’ve kind of tiptoed around it. The organization felt quite badly burned by what happened in the March of Women,” he said.

Development and Peace’s June 2003 policy on AIDS states it “does not fund programs specifically designed to distribute condoms, nor does it fund elements of broader programs which involve condom distribution.” The no-condom policy will not change as Development and Peace works on a new AIDS policy which should be ready for board review in late November, Casey said.

“We do have our principles and our founding philosophies and beliefs and the teachings of the church, and we are an organization of the church,” he said. “We have to be consistent in that.”

Though AIDS is the pre-eminent development issue in Africa, and Africa is the largest recipient of Development and Peace funding, Development and Peace staff could only name three small projects in Africa with an AIDS component:

In Burundi it funds the Kamenge Youth Centre, which sponsors sports and cultural activities for young people along with AIDS awareness and education.

In Togo it funds FAMME — Action Group for Women and Children’s Well-being which promotes literacy and training, microfinancing of small enterprises and basic clinical services for women including dispensing essential medicines for HIV/AIDS.

Women for Change in Zambia receives funding to run community workshops on HIV/AIDS, and trains “community trainers” in AIDS care essentials.
Conventional development projects won’t make much difference in the fight against AIDS, said Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who heads up the African Jesuit AIDS Network in Nairobi, Kenya.

“HIV is a symptom of a much larger problem of social inequality and poverty in Africa, and it runs deeper than developmental projects reach,” Czerny wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

There is no shortage of Catholic Church-sponsored AIDS work Development and Peace could fund in Africa, according to Czerny.

“The Catholic Church in Africa already does anywhere from 20 per cent to 70 per cent of all the AIDS work, and the poorer and remoter the area the more likely to be doing just about all of it,” he said.

But it’s just too much for impoverished African churches in developing countries to take on the AIDS challenge alone. In 2004 2.3 million Africans died of AIDS and 3.1 million became newly infected. There are 12.1 million AIDS orphans in Africa and 7.5 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans have AIDS or the virus which causes AIDS.

“I would say that the people of God here are really counting on our sister churches — first, to join in believing that the church has an enormous (maybe even the greatest) contribution to make in stemming the pandemic and turning it around,” said Czerny. “Secondly, to appreciate what African Catholics are doing, and how, and why. And third, to support these many efforts.”

Despite its 2003 AIDS policy, Development and Peace hasn’t been systematic or aggressive in funding AIDS work in Africa or elsewhere, said Casey. That’s about to change because of new funding priorities atthe Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and because Toronto will host the XVI International AIDS Conference next August.

Just as Development and Peace’s current five-year agreement with CIDA is running out, the federal government’s development funding agency has a new focus on Africa — and AIDS prevention is now a high priority for CIDA. CIDA provides about one-third of Development and Peace’s annual $24-million budget.

If Development and Peace wants to keep or increase its level of CIDA funding it is going to have to show itself a willing and ready partner on the AIDS file as it tries to hammer out a new five-year contract with CIDA next year, said Casey.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has also told Casey it expects Development and Peace to represent the Catholic Church’s interest in AIDS prevention at the AIDS conference in Toronto.

“There’s sort of a moral obligation on us to take a bit of a position of leadership in this discussion,” said Casey. “That would seem logical to me, given that we are the lead development agency of the Catholic Church in Canada. Maybe it’s our role.”

There has to be more to a Catholic AIDS policy than keeping away from condom distribution programs, said Dr. Katherine Rouleau, medical advisor to Dignitas International, an agency working on AIDS in Malawi.

Just saying no to condoms is a problem when the most successful African AIDS prevention programs have been based on the ABC principals — Abstinence, Be faithful, and if necessary use Condoms.

“If you just eliminate the C you create a dissonance with the reality,” said Rouleau.

The teaching authority of the church has never made an official statement for or against using condoms to prevent disease.

By themselves, condoms will never solve the problem, and the church is right when it puts its long-term focus on transforming the culture and raising the status of women, said Rouleau, St. Michael’s Hospital’s acting chief of family and community medicine. Counselling, testing and finding ways around the stigma which prevents many Africans from even speaking of the disease are all areas where church agencies could help.

Most of all, however, AIDS programming has to come from Africans and respond to their priorities, Rouleau said. That’s where Development and Peace has an advantage because it has always funded local NGO partners and existing programs, rather than imposing its own solutions.

Rouleau understands the sensitivity of the issue for those who have come to think of the disease almost exclusively in terms of sexual morality. But when the disease is “undermining humanity” with the prospect of 100 million deaths by 2010, there’s more to it than the ideal of chastity.

“If you do believe the tenets of the Catholic Church you need to find a way to respect life.”

And that means complex and difficult answers to a complex and difficult problem.

“Taking a stand means you’re stepping right in the middle of a grey zone,” said Rouleau. But she encourages Development and Peace to venture into the grey.

“I think we need to recognize there are difficult issues. The worst thing we can do is not talk about it because it’s difficult.”

“I know we’re very much a johnny-come-lately on this issue,” said Casey.

This low-profile status quo won’t continue, he said.

“There’s got to be a way that an institution like the Catholic Church can address a major social issue without compromising its beliefs,” he said. “To a certain extent it might even be incumbent on us to find the way, because this is our raison d’etré. We’re in development.”


Post a Comment

<< Home