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While a newspaper investigation found evidence nationally that AIDS-related deaths among Catholic priests are widespread, Buffalo Bishop Henry J. Mansell said late last week that he is unaware of any priest in the Buffalo diocese who has died of AIDS.

Other local sources said they know of a few Buffalo-born priests who had left the priesthood after serving in the diocese who have died of AIDS.

Mansell, who has headed the diocese since 1995, said through Monsignor David M. Lee, diocesan communications director, that to the best of his knowledge, no priest in the eight-county diocese has died of AIDS either since his arrival or before he came to Buffalo.

Furthermore, the bishop said he does not know of any priest in the diocese who currently has AIDS.

"If the matter would turn up, it would be handled on a case-by-case basis," the bishop said.

Mansell did say that the diocese makes sure candidates for the priesthood are free of AIDS or HIV by requiring "a full, comprehensive physical examination of every seminarian entering the seminary."

Ron Silverio, a former priest who serves as president and chief executive officer of AIDS Community Services in Buffalo, said he knows of some priests who have died of AIDS.

"I know from my days in the priesthood of priests who were actively serving who died of AIDS, so I do know it is a reality that priests (from Western New York) have died of this disease," said Silverio, a priest from 1970 to 1980.

"But I have no way of knowing how widespread this issue is for priests across the country," he added.

The priests he knew about, Silverio said, "were individuals from Buffalo, who may or may not have served the church in this area."

"I also know that they were treated compassionately by the church and all the care givers involved," he said.

A veteran priest, who asked not to be identified, said he knows of three former priests who died of AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses several years after they had left the priesthood. Like Mansell, the priest said he was unaware of any active priest in the diocese who has died of AIDS.

Another priest, who is an authority on AIDS, the Rev. Robert J. Perelli, director of AIDS Family Services, said that during more than 10 years of working with individuals with AIDS or HIV, he has "never had a client for counseling who is a Catholic priest."

If the death-rate data reported by the newspaper is accurate, Silverio said, "it is tragic and a great challenge to those of us who are professionally charged with preventing the spread of this epidemic."

"To me, one of the challenges for the church and community is to make sure that anyone who suffers from a life-threatening disease like AIDS, priest or otherwise, would have available to them the support and care that they need," he said.

Stressing that confidentiality is a major concern for individuals with AIDS, Silverio said that "for a priest, there is the added challenge of secrecy and fear."

"It would be important that the information and education be available to them," he said.

Silverio noted that many faith communities, including the Catholic community, "have responded generously to caring about and for individuals with AIDS."

"It would be a great tragedy if a priest felt he could not access the services, medical and otherwise, . . . because of concerns about confidentiality. I can safely say I know of no agency serving individuals with AIDS that would not be a safe place to turn for a priest or any other individual." Silverio also expressed concern "that people would not see this as an issue that cannot be talked about but addressed as a health issue."

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