MAY 30, 1997

Page 19

Priests with AIDS

I want to thank you for Pamela Schaeffer's cover story highlighting the issue of "Priests with AIDS" (NCR, April 18). Breaking the silence should be understood as a major step on the path of acceptance, understanding and healing in the church's ministry of compassion and support to all persons suffering with AIDS.

By way of anecdote. I want to mention the cover-up of a friend's death. The priest, who must remain nameless, died several years ago from an AIDS-related illness. He was from a wealthy Chicago family and a member of a cloistered monastic community in the Midwest in which he served as my novice master. Later, he lived outside the community at a prestigious university in the East. He was a brilliant man and a good religious.

Outside the monastery, he came out and did engage in several same-sex experiences, struggling all the while with the issue of celibacy. On some levels, his life was a tortured existence....

While dying, the priest stated that he felt the "love and mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus inundating his entire person." He died and was buried at his abbey. The monks of his community were forbidden to discuss the nature of his illness and the manner of his death. They were instructed to say he died from an infection contracted in a foreign country. It is true his family insisted upon this, yet the abbot and his staff at the university were in collusion. To this day, no one will speak about his death, much less hls homosexuality.

I find this deeply disappointing. This priest was a fine example of a person who struggled with his sexuality while attempting to remain faithful to his vows and, indeed, to church teaching. His acceptance of his disease and heroism in face of his death, all the while trusting in God's mercy, should be a real "sign of the times" as well as a source of encouragement and edification for all who struggle with these complicated issues. Sadly, there remains a pall of silence....

TERRANCE J. NELSON Minneapolis, Minn.