Bishop Tells Wisconsin AIDS Ministry Not To Participate in AIDS Walk
A La Crosse, Wis., bishop, who Pope John Paul II recently named archbishop of St. Louis, has ordered a church-based AIDS ministry to stop participating in an annual AIDS walk, saying that some of the groups that benefit from the walk promote homosexuality, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Bishop Raymond Burke in May 2002 wrote a letter to the church-supported Central Wisconsin HIV/AIDS Ministry Project, telling Ministry Coordinator Marge Schumann not to participate any longer in the AIDS walk, from which the group received funding, because two of the other groups benefiting from the walk -- the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and the Rainbow Alliance for Youth -- promote homosexual activity. "By participating in AIDS Walk Wisconsin, the Central Wisconsin HIV/AIDS Ministry would be cooperating materially with groups that act against the moral law," the letter said, adding that if the group did not comply, it would not be allowed to apply for future funding from the diocese's Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The ministry after receiving the letter in May did not participate in the walk, nor did they participate in the walk this year, the Journal Sentinel reports.
Schumann on Friday said that she regretted losing the funding that the walk provided but that she "needed to look at the bigger picture and the importance of the work we're doing." Arthur Hippler, director of justice and peace for the La Crosse diocese who also sent a letter to Schumann on the issue, said that although the ministry may have lost some of its funding in the short term, it was better off in the long term because it is not participating in an event that benefits groups that go against the church's teachings, according to the Journal Sentinel. Patrick Flaherty, director of community relations for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, said that his group does not promote homosexuality among young people but that it does operate a program for 750 gay youths on AIDS prevention. Flaherty added, "We think keeping young gay people HIV-free is a laudable goal. It's unfortunate that the bishop does not feel the same." Doug Nelson, president and CEO of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which organizes the walk, said that he wrote a letter to Burke asking him to reconsider his order. Burke sent a return letter, which said, "The AIDS Walk raises money for organizations that actively and publicly promote homosexual activity, thus cooperating in the activities of these organizations and giving them a kind of legitimacy in the public forum. This is completely unacceptable." Nelson said, "It's just astounding that they would be ordered not to participate. We miss them. This is an organization that does wonderful, wonderful work in support of people with AIDS and HIV" (Rinard/Held, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/6).
Letter 'Weakens' AIDS Efforts, Editorial Says
"[I]f all Catholics thought as ... Burke does, people with AIDS probably would get a little less help and any alliance would be subject to litmus tests that not many groups could pass," a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial says. Although Burke's prior support of the AIDS Ministry is "to his credit," his threats to take that support away if the group participates in the walk "undermine[s] that support" and "weaken[s]" the ministry's fundraising efforts, the editorial says. The AIDS Walk does not promote homosexuality, and although groups that promote gay rights may be involved, "that hardly means that everyone who participates buys into their" views, the editorial says, adding, "Requiring agreement on every issue before fighting together on one issue would doom most coalitions before they ever got started." The editorial concludes, "Fortunately ... not all Catholics think alike, ... [w]hich means that many Catholics will still be doing the good work of AIDS Walk Wisconsin" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/8).