Belgian archbishop's AIDS comments spark national fury

15th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of the Belgian Catholic church on Friday denied stigmatising HIV carriers amid a national uproar sparked by his allegation that AIDS is "a sort of intrinsic justice".

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, a conservative close to Pope Benedict XVI who has headed the Belgian church since January, called a hasty press conference after his remarks infuriated a nation already reeling over recent revelations of massive child abuse in the Catholic church.

"HIV carriers merit respect" and "must not suffer discrimination" he said Friday of his controversial comments.

Leonard said he had understood from numerous scientific papers that "AIDS at the beginning multiplied through sexual behaviour with all sorts of partners or else through anal rather than vaginal sexual rapports."

"All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions," the archbishop said. "I believe this is a totally decent, honourable and respectable stance."

He went on to explain that heavy smokers could expect possible lung cancer and that drinking a bottle of whisky a day could harm the liver.

His "intrinsic justice" comments were carried in a Dutch translation that hit bookshelves Thursday of a 2006 book in French which had already caused uproar.

In the book, a compilation of interviews he gave, Leonard rejected the notion that AIDS was "a punishment from God", instead saying that "this epidemic is a sort of intrinsic justice, not at all a punishment".

The comments immediately caused outrage, headlining radio and TV news as well as dailies just weeks after a church commission revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.

"When you mistreat the environment it ends up by mistreating us in turn. And when you mistreat human love, perhaps it winds up taking vengeance without there needing to be a transcendental cause," he said in the updated edition of the book.

"Mistreating the deep nature of human love always ends up spawning catastrophes at all levels," he said.

Gay groups, anti-AIDS activists and political parties across the board responded angrily.

"Statements like these demonise all AIDS sufferers," said gay rights organisation Cavaria.

"It is unacceptable to say that people who are HIV positive merited it," said the head of anti-AIDS group Prevention SIDA, Thierry Martin. "What would one say of an HIV positive baby who's just been born?"

© 2010 AFP

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