The AIDS crisis challenges the Roman Catholic Church at "the very heart of [its] purpose for existing," an advisory committee of the Archdiocese of Baltimore said yesterday as it recommended more involvement with problems the disease causes for individuals and society.
The report -- by a committee on AIDS ministry made public yesterday -- cited needs for greater public visibility of the AIDS ministry and social advocacy for the afflicted; AIDS-awareness education at the parish level and among clergy and lay leaders; and greater coordination of archdiocesan resources to cope with the epidemic.
Church efforts should range from moral education for young people toaddressing societal fears and prejudices regarding those infected with the virus that causes AIDS, the report said.
While acknowledging material limitations, the committee found considerable effort being made though four institutions run or supported by the archdiocese -- Stella Maris Hospice, AIDS Interfaith Residential Services, the Franciscan Center AIDS Outreach and the Chara House group home for young children with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
But the committee also found the need for greater coordination of archdiocesan programs, and a higher "public profile" of the church ministry to those infected by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS.
The fatal disease has struck people of all ages and across the spectrum of society, claiming ministers and priests as well.
"In a most unique way, the crisis of AIDS . . . presents a challenge to the Church to offer the witness of compassion and hope that is at the very heart of the church's purpose for existing," said the report, entitled "Strangers and Aliens No Longer."
"How the Christian community responds to this challenge will affect the fundamental credibility of its pastoral witness to society," the report said.
The challenge of AIDS, it said, "is for the church a moment of grace, a moment of opportunity" to "renew our ability to both receive and give the gift of hope." The report was drawn in part from interviews with providers of AIDS-related services and people with AIDS, and an archdiocesan survey of 1,800 persons involved in various levels of pastoral ministry, the archdiocese said.