German priest working with AIDS orphans to stay in S. Africa

By Anli Serfontein

Trier, Germany, 3 September (ENI)--The diocese of a German Roman Catholic priest who has worked with AIDS orphans in Cape Town and who also has strongly criticised his church's policy on HIV and AIDS, has granted him a new five-year contract  to continue his work.


"I will further engage myself in how the Catholic Church deals with this theme," Hippler told Ecumenical News International from Cape Town following the news of his appointment.


The Rev. Stefan Hippler worked as a priest in a German-speaking congregation in the South African parliamentary capital, Cape Town, and also initiated an AIDS charity project called "Hope" which caters for HIV-positive children and parents.


In a book, "God, AIDS, Africa", written with journalist Bartholomäus Grill and published in Germany in 2007, Hippler urged a re-consideration of the Catholic Church's ban on condoms, to prevent the spread of HIV. He said the theology of his church on AIDS is more than 40 years out-of-date. The priest's AIDS charity distributes condoms.


In March this year Hippler signed an agreement between his Hope charity and the Catholic justice and peace commission of the diocese of Cape Town, setting up an organization that takes care of the pastoral side of priests and nuns who are HIV-positive.


Shortly after that, in May, the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, who employed Hippler in Cape Town, announced it would not renew his contract, which was due to expire at the end of September. After 12 years in Africa the priest was due to return to the diocese of Trier.


However, in a deal with the newly-installed bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackerman, Hippler was granted a new five-year contract in Cape Town, paid for by the Trier diocese.


Hippler will give up his post as priest to the Cape Town congregation, where a successor has been appointed. He is soon to take up an office with the diocese of Cape Town, working for the charity "Hope" and co-ordinating various other Church AIDS projects in the region.


This is possible under the "fidei donum" rule of the Catholic Church whereby bishops offer priests for temporary service in the churches of Africa. The arrangement means that Hippler's work is financed by his diocese, rather than by the German bishops' conference, as previously.


"It is really good that a solution was found where both parties are content," said Hippler.  He said he met with Bishop Ackerman in Trier in June and they explored various possibilities. When the "fidei donum" solution was found, "I said yes, with great joy," Hippler noted.


A reading tour by Hippler of his book through Germany and Austria was cancelled in 2008 by his publishers Kiepenheuer & Witsch after they said bishops brought pressure on him.


In a statement released on the Hippler case in May, in his first week in office, Bishop Ackermann said that in the struggle against AIDS the efforts of all people are needed to support those affected by the disease. "As far as I can judge from afar, Father Hippler did that in Cape Town with a great amount of commitment," said Ackermann. "For his efforts I am thankful. That is regardless of some statements of Father Hippler regarding questions of sexual ethics that are not in accordance with the teachings of the church." [562 words]

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