Georgetown AIDS prevention study called inaccurate, biased against Catholic ethics

Georgetown's Healy Hall
Georgetown's Healy Hall


A Georgetown University study that dismissed the Catholic Church’s approach to limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS has been criticized by a leading researcher for being scientifically inaccurate and having a possible anti-religious bias, reports Deal Hudson at

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, based at the Jesuit-run Georgetown University, published a report in November titled “Faith Communities Engage the HIV/AIDS crisis.”  Authored by Lucy Keough, a retired officer of the World Bank, and Katherine Marshall, a visiting fellow at the Berkley Center, the report criticized religious groups’ response to AIDS victims.  The authors write:

“Faith hierarchies, leaders, and communities have in the past often been promoters of stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, partly because of their difficulty in confronting aspects of human sexuality and partly because they often assume a link between AIDS and what they regard as sinful activities.”

Keough and Marshall particularly promote the use of condoms in AIDS prevention programs, contrary to the teaching of the Church.

Ray Ruddy, president of Boston’s Gerald Health Foundation, wrote a letter to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia asking him to disavow or retract the report.  Ruddy’s letter said the report "castigates the Catholic Church in particular and the faith based community in general." 

"It seems incredible to many of us that the Catholic Church in general and the Jesuits in particular would permit such an inaccurate and misleading report to be published," Ruddy wrote.

Ruddy asked a Harvard expert on HIV/AIDS prevention, Dr. Edward C. Green, to evaluate the Georgetown study.

Green, who is not a member of any religious denomination, said the Georgetown report ignored the scientific evidence that behavior change, rather than condom use, has checked the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Georgetown report, Green says, gets "the story all wrong: they emphasize the role of increasing condom use in bringing down Uganda's HIV rates and downplay the dramatic increase in the number of people reporting abstinence and faithfulness behaviors."

Green suggested that programs based on behavior change were “mysteriously absent” from programs often supported by Western donors.  The neglect of behavioral change advocacy, Green thought, supports the "financial self-interest of contractors and grantees that benefit from the multi-billion dollar global AIDS industry."

He suggested the Church has an advantage in promoting the behavior changes necessary to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, since “these behaviors conform to the moral, ethical, and scriptural positions and teachings of virtually all religions.” 

Green also concluded that the Georgetown report seemed to express an anti-religious bias, treating stigma within faith communities “particularly harshly.” Green wrote that the authors are apparently “making a value judgment about religious beliefs on sexuality,” needlessly depicting religious beliefs as “inherently stigmatizing.” 

The authors of the report would have done better, Green wrote, if they presented how faith communities themselves can “embrace orthodox beliefs about sexuality without contributing to stigma.” 

In addition, Green wrote that though the report recognizes the Church’s contribution to AIDS/HIV prevention through the promotion of abstinence and faithfulness, “the report seems to imply that the Church’s teaching on condom usage is detrimental to the fight against AIDS.”

Green summarized the view he defended in his book Rethinking AIDS Prevention, saying “If AIDS prevention is to be based on evidence rather than consensus, ideology, or bias, then fidelity and abstinence programs, in that order, need to be front and center in AIDS prevention programs for general populations.”


Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome