The First Openly HIV Positive Priest Gets A Second Calling

In the midst of a global pandemic, HIV/AIDS, the Church of England has called an openly gay, and for the first time an openly HIV-positive priest to minister to a parish that has suffered many losses from the disease. Forty-plus million people are living with the disease, and countless clergy have died from it, most without acknowledging it publicly because of "official policy". The priest had been forced to resign from a previous parish because of his diagnosis. Maybe with this second calling, the world is also given an opportunity to learn from this one parish in the entire world where a ministry will be offered from the lessons AIDS has to teach us all.

That bold stroke, to allow a person called to the priesthood to lead a flock from a place of open, honest and personal experience with AIDS, is considered a threat by social conservatives in the global Anglican Communion that has been up in arms about the selection of the first woman as Presiding Bishop in the US, and the selection of the first openly gay Bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire.

I can't help but scratch my head. With the priest scandals that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the US and around the world just a few short years ago, and the intense political cover-up that finally came to light, this honesty from the Church of England, and their counterparts in the US Episcopal Church should be good news. In New York, one of those scandals is back in the news, giving evidence of just what lengths the US Conference of Catholic Bishops will go to in an attempt to hide inappropriate behavior. Reality Check: a priest hopping in a hotel bed clad only in underwear with a teenage parishoner just to cuddle is similar to what Michael Jackson claimed, but I don't recall the US Conference of Bishops being a character witness in the Jackson trial.

The issues that most challenge the world today are dispropotionately felt by women, girls and marginalizd communities. It seems then that people of faith would acknowledge the lessons that women's lives, the lives of people with HIV and others called from their experience to lead and bring healing to the world would be welcomed, not politicized to drive wedges between people.

The English HIV-positive priest, so far unidentified, states in the article that he is obeying church policy that forbids gay priests from having sex. That reflects a double standard on celibacy that the Anglicans long ago gave up for heterosexual priests, and is a real shame. In every other respect the church is doing the right thing with respect to women, gays and people living with HIV and the role they should play in modern life by struggling honestly and openly with these issues.

Ironically, much of the opposition to women and gays within the Anglican Communion comes from Africa, the continent most impacted by the pandemic. Along with some ideologically social conservative American parishes, they may choose to leave the church. As unfortunate as that would be, it's not like Anglicans aren't accustomed to schisms.

In a time when the world needs more healing than ever, many want to reject faith because it has been overtly politicized, yet even the most secular among us should welcome the news from England and the lessons it brings to teach a world still coming to grips with HIV/AIDS.

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  • debra-haffner

    Yes, congratulations to the Anglican Church for allowing this HIV positive openly gay priest to serve. But doing right in every other respect, Scott? The worldwide communion has a long way to go in assuring full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in the life of the church. Just this summer, for example, they voted a moratorium on elevating openly gay priests to be bishops, in deference to those still upset about Bishop Gene Robinson. Change is happening…but very slowly and not without a great deal of resistance not only of the African churches but many in the United States.


    Rev. Debra W. Haffner Director, Religious Institute

  • scott-swenson

    By "every other respect" I simply meant that they openly and honestly debate and struggle with these issues. Yes, miles to go before we sleep before full inclusion is realized. The resistant parishes and dioceses in the US and other places, while vocal, are in the minority.