Contra the Catholic League on World AIDS Day

Contra the Catholic League on World AIDS Day December 1, 2021


I was not aware it was World AIDS Day.

I was reminded that it’s World AIDS Day, oddly enough, by the Catholic League.

The “Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights,” led by the legendary Bill Donohue whom I’ve lampooned before, is not typically where I go to get my news about AIDS. But I happened to see some of my friends quote tweeting a tweet from their official Twitter feed, and now I’m sorry I did.

The tweet reads in its entirety:

“Today is World AIDS Day. From reading some commentary on it, it is plain as day that nothing has been learned. We don’t need new research to find a cure–we need common sense and common decency to kick in: Simply practice restraint and never engage in anal sex!”

This tweet, like most of the output from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has very little to do with Catholic religious and civil rights. It is also terrible for other reasons, such as that it’s about as scientifically accurate as employing sheep’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.
I usually regret it when I respond to a tweet from the Catholic League, but I’m going to go ahead and refute this one because the misinformation is just so crass. I remember when I used to get the Catholic League’s newsletter delivered to my house when I was a child in the Charismatic Renewal. I actually read it and thought it was informative. If I’d seen something like this I would’ve believed it. So, for the sake of the naïve young person I used to be:

Hey kids! This is your eccentric old Aunt Mary, here to tell you that you shouldn’t listen to weird old Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill likes to use Twitter but he’s not very good at using Google, as he has apparently not read up on any new information on AIDS since the early 80s or maybe never. So let’s go over some facts in honor of World AIDS Day.

AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome. It is a serious illness caused by a virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS is no joke and it can kill you. You cannot catch this virus by being sneezed on or by shaking hands with somebody. You can only catch HIV through being born with it, through being exposed to the blood of someone who already has it, by having sex with someone who has it, and rarely through the breastmilk of someone who has it.

Contrary to what Uncle Bill thinks, you can’t only catch HIV through anal sex. When Uncle Bill and I were young, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, people chose to believe that AIDS could only be spread by gay men having anal intercourse. But scientists very quickly discovered that this isn’t true. You can catch HIV through any kind of sex. The rate of HIV transmission in homosexual male couples is currently decreasing, but it remains stable in women and in heterosexual HIV transmissions. Not that only gay men perform that particular act, of course, but Uncle Bill is old fashioned and doesn’t realize this.

Also, remember that about 7% of new HIV infections are in people who inject drugs. So say no to drugs and practice harm reduction to stay safe from HIV.

And no, it isn’t true that you have no chance of having AIDS if you just “practice restraint,” whatever that means. Of course you can catch HIV through voluntary behavior. But remember, some people are born with HIV or contract it through breastmilk because their mother had it. Some people are forced into sexual contact and get HIV. Some people accidentally get exposed to infected blood. You can’t know that somebody has been “practicing restraint” based on whether or not they are HIV positive.

Furthermore, kids, did you know that Black and Latino communities are severely disproportionately effected by HIV? And that HIV rates in America are growing fastest in the South– not San Francisco or someplace like that, but in the southern states? And that most of the states ranked worst for healthcare access are also in the Southern US? This points to the fact that AIDS is a problem of medically underserved communities, not a problem of lacking self control.

And remember that according to the CDC, 13% of people living with HIV in the United States don’t know they have it, and that PReP medicine can be an effective way to prevent transmission. So if you think you might have been exposed to HIV, please don’t just not say anything and hope it’ll go away. I know it’s scary when people like Uncle Bill talk, but there are also grown-ups who want to help you and will not get angry or judge. It’s okay to talk to us. You won’t be in trouble.

Eccentric old Aunt Mary is just a little bitter about weird old Uncle Bill’s antics today, because I grew up in the Charismatic Renewal, where we were told that AIDS was a just consequence of the sins of LGBTQ people and that it jumped the species barrier when gay men practiced bestiality to see if it was fun. And I was so naïve that I believed that until I was in my twenties. And LGBTQ Catholics– including me, I’m monogamous with my husband because those are my values as a Catholic but I am bisexual and always have been– still live with so much bigotry and even violence because of nonsense rumors like that. I wouldn’t want you to grow up with the superstition and lies I was taught.

Please stop listening to these weirdos.

Thanks, that’s all for today.



Image via Pixabay


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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