HIV messenger `misunderstood'

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The Independent Online
LThere was no mention of Aids or HIV, just a reference to being "misunderstood".

When Father Michael Kennedy, the priest at the centre of the Aids Avenger scare, stood before his congregation in Ireland yesterday, he was in sad, reflective mood.

Last week, his sermon at the parish church of St Mary's struck fear into the community of Dungarvan, Co Waterford, as he told of five young men infected with HIV by a woman recklessly sleeping her way across south- east Ireland. Only when she became seriously ill had she heeded his pleas to stop.

Yesterday, Sister Jean Fennelly, of the Franciscan Missionary of Mary, took the St Mary's pulpit. It was Fr Kennedy's turn to preach to the sick and elderly in the chapel of nearby St Joseph's hospital.

"We as priests have often been misunderstood," he told them.

"Often the message that is preached is lost completely and the messenger is the one who is attacked. But the truth will always win out in the end." The truth was difficult to establish, he pointed out afterwards.

He suggested the South Eastern Health Board statistics on recorded HIV infection meant little. The five men he had dealt with all had their tests in Britain to preserve anonymity. "It shows everybody's trying to defend themselves," he said.

Parishioners remain firmly behind their popular curate, with his glamorous links to the American Kennedy clan. Concerned he might be forced to move away by the fuss, they started a petition of support.

"He said what he said and he was right to say it," said Gerry Power, 47, a caretaker at St Mary's. Not everyone is so sure. The cynical have turned to black humour, with T-shirts bearing the slogan: "I come from Dungarvan, but I have an alibi."

"We don't know what to believe," said one young man. "I would say there was a lot of worried people around, all right."