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The Catholic response to HIV and AIDS in South Africa with a special reference to KwaZulu-Natal (1984-2005) : a historical-critical perspective.

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The present study is a critical history of the Catholic Church‟s response to HIV and Aids in South Africa, with a special emphasis on KwaZulu-Natal. It attempts to document and reflect on what the church said and did in responding to HIV and Aids between 1984 and 2005. It relies upon both oral and literary sources which were collected between 2006 and 2009. These comprise of oral testimonies of Catholic clerics, lay leaders, and administrators as well as archival sources in the form of correspondence letters, plenary session minutes, magazine articles, and project reports. The study establishes that between 1984 and 1990 the Catholic Church saw Aids as a disease far removed from its sphere yet deserving certain visionary measures. To a larger extent, Aids was ignored. A moral perspective on the Aids disease prevailed throughout the period. However, isolated visionary leaders conducted awareness workshops. Between 1991 and 1999, however, Aids was seen as immediate, a problem closely related to the mission of the Catholic Church. Here Aids was confronted. The predominant theological response was „missiological,‟ expressed through the new pastoral plan, Community Serving Humanity. As a result, the main Aids related activity by the church was the care of PLWHA. Through home-based care and institutionalised care, Catholic local initiatives in responding to the disease mushroomed in the country with the Archdiocese of Durban taking a leading role. Between 2000 and 2005 Aids was seen as imminent in the church, a concept popularised as the „Church has Aids‟. As a result, the period witnessed a concerted effort by the Catholic Church to integrate Aids response into its mainstream activities. In this period, Aids was seen as a human rights issue. Consequently, the Catholic Church endeavoured to address rights to treatment, Aids related stigma, family violence and gender imbalances. „Responsibility in a Time of Aids‟ became a predominant theological concept. The Catholic Church became a pacesetter in care and treatment after securing oversees funding. However, prevention became the church‟s Achilles heel following an unrelenting condom controversy. The availability of large amounts of money and many financial donors led to the NGO-isation of the Catholic Church‟s Aids projects with regard to their identity, activities, and organization. By and large, HIV and Aids had a large impact on the Catholic Church at all levels, both theologically and organizationally. Therefore, the study argues that for the Catholic Church responding to the Aids epidemic was a complex organizational dilemma. On the one hand, the church‟s teachings compelled it to care for the sick with a compassionate love and uphold a naturalist ethical position on sexuality. On the other hand, the Aids disease was associated with what was perceived to be sinful behaviours such as prostitution, homosexuality and heterosexual acts outside marriage. The infected, therefore, were not only „sick‟ but „sinners‟ at the same time. Moreover, the means of HIV prevention advocated by the government and the better part of the society, the use of condoms, was in sharp contrast with the church‟s official teachings. The hierarchy set itself to defend the teachings while majority of the lay leaders and the medical practitioners called for its revision. Generally speaking, the Catholic Church‟s response to the HIV and Aids epidemic in South Africa was entangled by organizational controversies. In spite of warnings by visionary leaders such as Father Ted Rogers and the exemplary leadership of Archbishop Denis Hurley during the mid 1980s, the Catholic organizational focus on HIV and Aids was delayed until 1990. A concern to respond to HIV and Aids in the church increased considerably in the 1990s as attention shifted from the cry for freedom and democracy to the escalating Aids crisis. However, it was during the 2000s that conditions favoured the much needed integrated Aids response. The Aids crisis had become too obvious to ignore given the acute mortality rate. In conclusion the Catholic Church‟s response to HIV and Aids came relatively early with creative and visionary ideas but it was hindered by organizational and theological barriers. The Catholic Church‟s official HIV prevention policy was contradictory and ambiguous. The Catholic Church innovatively used two models, institutionalised care and home-based care, in the treatment and care of PLWHA and Aids orphans, home based care and Aids hospices. The Catholic Church demonstrated an outstanding ability to raise and disburse large amounts of funds, successfully channelling these to service delivery in its response to HIV and Aids. The Catholic Church Aids projects became NGO-ised following the influx of large foreign funds in the years of the 2000s.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2010.


AIDS (Disease)--South Africa--Prevention., AIDS (Disease)--South Africa--Religious aspects., AIDS (Disease)--KwaZulu-Natal--Prevention., Theses--Theology.