KANSAS CITY STAR SURVEY CLAIMS PRIESTS MORE LIKELY TO HAVE AIDS
Report Not Scientifically Accurate
ROME, FEB 2 (ZENIT).- A recent series of articles by the Kansas City
Star has awakened discussion and debate in the Church about the
occurence of AIDS among its priests. According to the first of the
series, Catholic priests are four times more likely to have AIDS than
society at large. The first three reports are online at
A Flawed Survey
The assertions about the demographics of AIDS among priests are based on
a survey that the newspaper sent out to 3,000 priests, both diocesan and
religious, from all over the country. A total of 801 priests responded,
only 27%. This makes the survey a self-selected group, already making
the results suspect.
Given that the survey was confidential, after this self-selection, it is
impossible to know if all the respondants came from one part of the
country or shared some other demographical trait. It is even possible
that priests who weren't HIV positive would have felt that the survey
didn't apply to them and ignored it. All of these factors make the
results at the very least questionable.
Four Times More Likely?
The Kansas City Star's survey indicates that 0.5% of the respondants
have AIDS -- 4 priests out of this group. Another 3 priests said they
were unsure and hadn't been tested. In its analysis, the newspaper
assumes that this means that 0.9% of all U.S. priests have AIDS. This
represents four times the AIDS rate in the general public, according to
the article, citing figures from the Center for Disease control (CDC).
However, the numbers don't seem to match up. The CDC estimates that
there are between 650,000 and 900,000 Americans with AIDS: 0.25-0.35% of
the general population (cf. 1997 World AIDS Day Pamphlet). This would
seem to justify the newspaper's assertion that priests are four times
more likely to have the disease, if we take the lowest estimates for the
general public and the highest estimates for priests.
When one considers that most AIDS patients are men (women represent only
20% of new AIDS cases), the CDC figures would have to fall very close to
or above the 0.5% figure of priests who actually reported having the
disease. Furthermore, since children make up a relatively small group
among AIDS victims, the percentage of adult males suffering from AIDS
would be even higher, possibly even exceeding the rate seen among
priests in the survey. At any rate, a far cry from the four times higher
rate of HIV cited in the article. [Editor's note: The Editor of the
Kansas City Star wrote to ZENIT to say that the "four times" figure was
based on "official sources," and not the results of their survey, whose
importance he downplayed. At any rate, citing the survey results next to
the CDC figures for the general population was clearly a misleading use
The article strongly emphasizes the figures that 58% of respondants
personally knew "priests who died of an AIDS-related illness" and 30%
"know priests with HIV or AIDS." These figures could, however, point to
nothing more than the intimacy of dioceses and religious orders. Priests
within the diocese tend to know one another, and this is even truer
among the religious. It is not clear that there is anything unusual
involved here at all. The article only provides the figures -- presented
in the lead paragraph as the most important fact in the article -- and
leaves it up to the reader to determine their meaning.
The AIDS epidemic must be faced by the Church with compassion, and must
be headed off by education, both for children and in seminary formation.
Accurate studies can help the Church identify where its problem areas
lie. The sensationalist slant on the data provided by the Kansas City
Star, however, would tend to impede, rather than encourage, serious
dialogue and study.