It is no surprise that faith-based organizations are at the forefront of providing health care services globally, particularly among populations that are often the most impoverished and dispossessed. Yet in a country that separates church and state, the question of funding can become a thorny issue for organizations that receive US public funding.
The recently released report commissioned by Catholics for Choice and written by RD contributor Kathryn Joyce, “Seeing Is Believing: Questions about Faith-Based Organizations That Are Involved in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment,” tackles this question and others on the eve of the XVIII International AIDS conference in Vienna.
Faith-based organizations receive a significant amount of public funding, and while acknowledging that these organizations have been at the forefront of AIDS and HIV health care, the report also raises the question of the effectiveness of these groups in light of preventative care (think condoms and abstinence education). The document calls for more transparency regarding national and international funding, both public and private, and suggests attentiveness regarding the possibility that faith-based organizations use such funds for proselytizing.
Catholics for Choice is to be commended for its honest depiction of the dedication yet unfortunate limitations characterized by faith-based organizations’ health care services. The report offers a realistic representation of the disconnect between faith-based organizations’ practices in the field (again think condoms being handed out by Catholics) and the official teachings of the Church. In reading it we are also challenged by the abstinence-only policies, for example in Africa, that can accompany faith-based initiatives in spite of a rise in HIV on the continent.
At the heart of US involvement is George W. Bush’s 2003 President’s Emergency Provision for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, a $15 billion plan that privileged conservative Christian groups and abstinence-only education. The CFC report exposes the billions of dollars that is often funneled through conservative Christian organizations that insert their theological and political agenda into their outreach, vilifying sex workers, homosexuals, and perpetuating US neo-colonialism across Africa. Perhaps one of the most shocking moments in reading this document is the reminder of the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill that would punish certain homosexual acts with the death penalty.
I have no doubt that some will not be happy with this report. Catholics for Choice “outs” a myriad of practices that are controversial and merit deeper study: the contradiction between belief and practice within many organizations; the lack of financial accountability in public funding; Christian perpetuation of homophobia, and the use of health care as a means of evangelization. The intention of the report is to break the silence surrounding these and other AIDS and HIV faith-based health care issues. The silence has been broken.