Priest `failed to warn of HIV threat'

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The priest who alleges a 25-year-old Irish woman deliberately infected up to 80 men with HIV was yesterday under pressure to explain why he apparently failed to warn health authorities for eight weeks of the danger of the disease spreading further.

The woman may have continued to be sexually active for almost two months from the time Fr Michael Kennedy made contact with her in early March.

After some confusion over the number of men verified as HIV positive, Fr Kennedy, of Dungarvan, Co Waterford, yesterday began visiting the first five who reported being infected, to check test documentation.

Fr Kennedy said the woman was now close to death in a London hospital. He told the Independent he had first been alerted to the danger in January when approached by a young man who said he had been infected through sex with her over a two-month period, before she finally told him she had Aids.

Fr Kennedy said he made eight unsuccessful attempts to persuade her to cease sexual activity and seek help. But she is thought to have continued having sexual encounters until the end of April, shortly before her return to London.

The priest told journalists he had asked a local doctor and a solicitor if there was any legal way to restrict her activity, but says he was told there was none.

Fr Kennedy yesterday spoke with local health authority officials but insisted he could not breach confidentiality by divulging the victims' names.

He did however encourage five men confirmed by tests in London as being HIV positive to make contact with local clinics.

Fr Kennedy said all five told him they became infected with the virus after having sexual intercourse with the same woman, who insisted they did not use condoms.

The priest also faced criticism for making the matter public without first ruling out all other risk factors. He says he took on trust the men's assertion that they had no history of drug use or homosexual activity.

Other priests have also been critical, saying Fr Kennedy should have restricted his approaches to police and medical authorities, and not spoken out from the pulpit.