‘Broken’ families and HIV
If stupidity were a sin, then I’m afraid many Filipino priests and bishops would have to engage in self-flagellation, if only to repent not just for their lack of intellectual, if not logical, power but also for their utterly moronic sense of morality and judgment.
A small news item reports that one Fr. Dan Vicente Cancino, MI, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Health Care, believes that people living with HIV got infected with the virus because they come from “broken families.”
Coming from a “broken family” gives one “a distorted concept of sexuality due to lack of what we call family values formation,” Father Cancino posted on the CBCP website. “Because of this, they were deprived of a deep parent-child relationship. The familial ties have been damaged. It is no wonder that many of our patients would come from broken families, dysfunctional families.”
So let me get it straight. In the gospel according to Father Cancino, when your parents break up and thus create your “broken” family, you grow up with poor role models who deprive you of “family values formation.” This apparently makes you into a sinner, a human being with little or no control over your sexuality, making you vulnerable to multiple sexual partners, and one or more of them could infect you with HIV.
Applying the reverse of this logic, if you grow up in an intact family, one where the relationship between the parents is stable and mutually monogamous, then you’re made for life. Your “family values” would have been firmly implanted in you, protecting you against errant behavior and—horrors!—sexual experimentation, including seeking same-sex relationships.
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More than 20 years after the world first had to grapple with the HIV epidemic, one would have thought many of the myths around its origins and spread would have been shattered by now.
One of these myths has to do with attributing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS with the kind of person one is, rather than to one’s behavior. If one were gay, engaged in commercial sex, promiscuous—and now, thanks to Father Cancino, grew up in a broken family—then one would most likely fall prey to HIV infection, or spread HIV to partners.
Studies have since shown that it is more proper to look at the behavior that leads to a person’s vulnerability to HIV. Drug use, having multiple sex partners without recourse to protection, even the use of illegal drugs and excessive alcohol consumption (that can lead to careless sexual behavior) can more properly be pinpointed as “causes” that lead—directly or indirectly—to HIV infection. In other cases, the situation that people find themselves in—women married to men with multiple sex partners (and who conceal this behavior from them), sex workers who do not or cannot insist on using protection with their clients—can contribute to their vulnerability.
Whatever the case, it seems useless to “blame” the person infected with HIV, much less to “blame” his or her parents for separating or divorcing, for getting sick and putting his or her life on the line.
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Indeed, Father Cancino might want to know that science at least has found one tool to protect a person from HIV infection. And that is the correct and consistent use of a condom while having sex. Of course (I can hear the voices of dissent now), celibacy (avoiding sex altogether) and monogamy (having sex with only one partner who has sex only with you) are also forms of protection. But we’re talking about weak and vulnerable human beings here—even if we seek escape in denial and insist on the “morality” of our peers, friends and children —and “good” sexual behavior is an ideal that is not always possible or desirable for all individuals.
But it is precisely because of “judgmental” attitudes such as that displayed by Father Cancino that leads people to hide their sexual behavior, including their questions, insecurities and vulnerabilities.
I would also plead with Father Cancino to stop his public judgment of children who grow up in families where the parents have separated or taken up with other partners. In the first place, none of this is the children’s fault. The failure of their parents to get along is not their failure, and their “sins” are not the children’s sins. There is no scientific evidence that links one’s familial situation to one’s sexual behavior and thence to infection with HIV.
And second, there are people living with HIV who do come from “broken homes” as well as those who reached maturity under the guidance of loving and caring parents. But on the other hand, there are also children whose parents have separated or divorced who grow into adulthood with their values intact and found whole families of their own.
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Instead, I hope the good Father Cancino will go back to his counseling manuals and learn how to talk with people, especially young people, living with HIV. I hope he really talks and, more important, listens, to them. And that he not begin counseling looking for ways to blame them or their parents.
We are facing a real HIV/AIDS crisis these days. Unlike in other countries, the number of new HIV cases in the country continues to rise, with 646 new cases reported in February, the highest number since 1984.
Clearly, something drastic and sweeping needs to be done if we are to halt and even reverse the rapid growth in HIV numbers in our midst. Judgmental and illogical arguments don’t help the situation any.
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