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Catholics Reject Influence of US Bishops in Congressional HIV/AIDS Funding Battle

February 27, 2008

Washington, DC – “As people of faith who believe in social justice, Catholics around the United States will be very disappointed with the influence the Catholics bishops invested in gutting practical, life-saving programs during the drafting of the Lantos/Hyde HIV/AIDS Global Leadership Act,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said in a statement today.

“Despite increasing funding overall, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

  • decoupled vital family planning services that can prevent mother-child transmission of HIV/AIDS;
  • retained the anti-prostitution pledge, further marginalizing an extremely at-risk group;  and
  • removed the current abstinence-only funding, but in its place imposed a complex formula that requires “balanced funding” for Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms (ABC) programs, rather than allowing experienced agencies to decide how best to spend the funds depending on local circumstances.

US taxpayers need to be aware that all of these moves came about, in part, as a result of lobbying by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The approach adopted by the US bishops, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), stems from a self-serving perspective that few Catholics share, let alone those of other and no religious preference. Catholics in the United States and elsewhere support aid for international family planning and reject abstinence-only education. Studies show that properly directed funding for international family planning programs saves women’s lives and the lives of their children when those women have HIV/AIDS. Many studies, including some sponsored by the US Congress, show that abstinence-only programs do not work. The bishops ignored this evidence to ensure that their own narrow, out-of-the-mainstream beliefs held sway on Capitol Hill.

“In the future, Congress must pay greater attention when religious organizations such as Catholic Relief Services apply for funds and then seek to influence how that funding is distributed using religion, not proven public health outcomes, to determine prevention strategies. Federal funds must be appropriated for services with a proven track record of doing the job for which they are intended, such as the provision of family planning services to women with HIV/AIDS.

“As soon as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services stated that they were “deeply troubled” by provisions calling for the integration and coordination of HIV and AIDS prevention and family planning services, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs should have recognized that the bishops’ general opposition to contraception was trumping the needs of the poorest and most disenfranchised people in the developing world who are in desperate need of strategies that save lives based on the best practices of modern day medicine.

“Catholics for Choice recognizes that workers in Catholic Relief Services do tremendously good work in difficult and sometimes impossible circumstances. Those workers and the people they help are not served well when the bishops put politics over the health and lives of those in need.

“As Catholics, we believe that the battle to end HIV/AIDS is a battle that must be fought by everyone. As one of the richest countries in the world, the United States has a special responsibility and must undertake every means necessary to eradicate these ills. By taking a lead from the Catholic bishops, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has done a disservice to those millions of men and women around the world whose lives relied on a better outcome.”