Kansas City Star Survey Claims Priests More Likely to Have Aids: Report Not


According to a recent article by the Kansas City Star, Catholic priests are four times more likely to have AIDS than society at large.

ROME, FEB 2 (ZENIT).- A recent series of articles by the Kansas City Star has awakened discussion and debate in the Church about the occurrence 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 http://www.kcstar.com/projects/priests/ .

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 respondents 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 respondents 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.

The article strongly emphasizes the figures that 58% of respondents 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. ZE00020220


ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.

Copyright © 2000 ZENIT

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.