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For a Lady Pope

Aids and immanent justice (poetic justice)

Aids and poetic justice


The facts


In the book entitled "Mgr. Leonard - Gesprekken", published in Holland in 2010, which is the update of a book published in French in 2006, Bishop Leonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, delivers his opinion on AIDS, a disease which we know to be fatal, and in which he sees a form of "poetic justice" (“justice immanente” in French).

He rejects the idea that the disease is a "punishment from God", but compares it more to the environmental disasters caused by humans. "When you mistreat the environment, it finally ends up by mistreating you. And when you mistreat human love, it might just look for revenge,” he said.


During a press conference, Bishop Leonard tried to clarify his ideas. "From what I have read in many scientific articles, AIDS initially began to spread because of sexual behaviour, which involved having all types of partners and practising anal sex rather than vaginal sex. I simply say that sometimes there our acts sometimes have consequences."

According to his thesis, he says, "I think it's a decent, honourable and respectable argument." For us to correctly understand the meaning of "poetic justice", he gives further examples: "If you smoke disproportionately, you can expect to have lung cancer. If you drink an entire bottle of whiskey every day - I'm not saying it is wrong- you know that there will be certain consequences, including perhaps, liver cirrhosis." The Primate of Belgium also states that "all people with HIV deserve respect and they should be subject to any discrimination whatsoever."


Poetic Justice of immanent justice

Bishop Leonard was hounded in the media and in the political world, sometimes disproportionately so.
There is no doubt that poetic justice is what arises from a fait accompli. Knowing the disorders and the ravages that a virus can lead to, we could say that it is our human responsibility to take preventive measures to protect ourselves. Reason must allow a man to adjust his behaviour when faced with the risks. In the absence of responsible behaviour, nature will impose its poetic justice.

The problem is, knowing whether referring to poetic justice to justify some people’s misery is relevant or useful, or offensive, especially when coming from the clergy. Everyone has already encountered this kind of peremptory judgment, which condemns certain behaviour.


Alas, the person who issues these considerations seems to experience some satisfaction, perhaps unconsciously - to condemn those who have behaved detrimentally, and they show very little compassion towards them. The prelate is on the side of “right”. That’s the risk he has taken.
The disapproval he could incur comes from the insinuation that it is a good thing that these people have been infected, as if justice was being done. Andre-Joseph Leonard justified himself by saying that he was not talking about people, but "practices".


For ordinary mortals, justice condemns people. Everyone will recognize that in evoking poetic justice, it is to the person that this justice applies. That is the smoker who, having smoked, is condemned by his cancer, or the alcoholic who, having drunk too much alcohol, is condemned by his cirrhosis.

The words of Bishop Leonard have shocked many people within the Catholic Church, to the point where the Bishop of Ghent, Luc Van Looy, who interpreted the speech of Bishop Leonard in the same manner as the majority the press, saw fit to say that people with AIDS can not be stigmatized.


Let’s generalize the expressions of poetic justice
If we extend the argument of Bishop Leonard and, if we do not just single out AIDS patients – unlike the Bishop -  and we speak about the smoker suffering from lung cancer or the drinker who dies of cirrhosis - we are entitled to understand that the prelate, according to his judgment, is saying that those who face similar tragedies can expect to be told: "Unfortunately, this is poetic justice, in some ways you were asking for it."

Admittedly, this is a particularly harsh and peremptory judgment, but it is the logic of poetic justice.
As a test, it would be good to try to generalize the words of Bishop Leonard a bit more. The exercise would be worth it. We could thus think of the type of reactions that the nurses, doctors, or chaplains in hospitals would have when hearing about the words of the prelate.


It would be in the form of a pastoral letter to the hospital staff and would read:

Note to physicians and nurses,


When you treat an AIDS patient, do not forget to tell him he is the object of poetic justice, in the sense that this justice is a natural reaction to what he has done, even if just one heterosexual sexual act could also cause the disease. Don’t forget to add that his not using a condom makes the justice even more poetic.
When you look after a lung or bladder cancer patient, who has smoked, even if rarely, tell him that this is a logical consequence of his acts. Even if we know that it sometimes only takes a few cigarettes to trigger cancer, you may, without making too much of a mistake, attribute his illness to this.


When a young quadriplegic man is driven to the clinic after a car speed accident, tell him that his case is not one of divine punishment, but is simply the result of poetic justice, of his own conduct. Tell him that playing with physical nature, in this case by driving too fast, even if it was for the first time in his life can, unfortunately,

sometimes have dramatic repercussions.

When a traveller returns from a tropical country with mortal amoebic meningoencephalitis you can explain that he knew he was taking a risk in going there and that nature is now avenged. You may tell him this even if just one sip of water could have induced the disease. When you treat someone who is obese for
myocardial infarction, don’t weep with him, his infraction is simply the natural outcome of his unreasonable behaviour.

When you have to treat a paedophile priest in a psychiatry department, tell him that his evil psychic is a result of what he has done and that the choices he has made in his life have naturally led to this misfortune.

When you treat a child who has been sexually abused by a priest, you can say to his parents: "If you entrusted your child to a cleric (do not tell them that this was a mistake and that they should known that this could expose their child to certain consequences, perhaps sexual abuse). Just say that sometimes our actions have consequences. To parents who reply: "We didn’t know, we had total confidence," you retort: "Since the 1990s, we have known that celibacy does not destroy nature. Go and read articles or books of that period. You were simply blind."


However, when you see an African priest who has abused nuns in a convent to avoid catching AIDS (because they, at least are not contaminated), tell him that his sensible behaviour did not result in appropriate poetic justice  for him, since he is healthy and unharmed. He will have to deal with another type of justice.

In conclusion bring up the subject in a relaxed way, in the name of poetic justice, and don’t show any compassion, because it is the patients themselves who have invoked nature’s revenge. Go in peace, the heart free, because your comments are utterly decent, honourable and respectable from a religious point of view.


According to Bishop Leonard, this is how hospital staff, who believe in his precepts, should behave.

And divine justice

Thankfully we have already explained that poetic justice has nothing to do with divine justice. The words "fair and just" used in this context do not stick with what Jesus said: " Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. "(Mt 21, 31).


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