The religious and academic credentials of an Arlington man who has received national publicity for his efforts to combat genital herpes have been disputed by Catholic Church officials and administrators at the colleges from which he claimed to have received degrees.
William E. Hibbs, whose work on behalf of sufferers of genital herpes, a sexually-transmitted disease, led to recent appearances on ABC's Good Morning America show and stories in newspapers, said in an interview three weeks ago that he was ordained as a priest by the Archdiocese of Washington in 1974. Church officials say Hibbs never was ordained here.
"He was absolutely not ordained for the Archdiocese of Washington in any year," said Monsignor John F. Donohue, chancellor of the Archdiocese.
Hibbs, 31, also said in the interview that he received an undergraduate degree from George Washington University and a master's in theology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Both institutions say they have no records of Hibbs' attendance. The 1981-82 edition of "Who's Who in the East," lists the two degrees and priesthood as part of Hibbs' biography, information that is supplied by the person profiled.
Hibbs was unavailable for comment last week. A board member of the local genital herpes organization, HELP of Washington, said last Friday that members of the group were interested in questioning Hibbs about his background, but were unable to find him. The board member said Hibbs apparently was "out of town."
In an interview three weeks ago concerning his fund-raising efforts for the nonprofit herpes organization, Hibbs said: "Please don't print anything about my past . . . I don't want anyone to dwell on my past."
During that interview, Hibbs declined to say who ordained him. When asked what church he was affiliated with, Hibbs said he did not work with a church.
Hibbs said that he left the priesthood "a year ago" before he found temporary work as a bookkeeper at the Pre-Term Center for Reproductive Health, an abortion clinic in Washington. While working there, he said, he became familiar with HELP, a national nonprofit health organization designed to support and offer advice to persons afflicted with genital herpes. HELP is affiliated with the American Social Health Association, a national herpes research center located in Palo Alto, California.
In January 1982, Hibbs said, he was diagnosed as having herpes himself. Genital herpes is a sexually-transmitted disease that has no known cure, although some symptoms can be relieved with drugs. Shortly before he discovered he had the disease, Hibbs said, he had taken an interest in the local chapter of the national HELP organization, a group which was renting office space from Pre-Term. "When I became involved . . . they (the local chapter of the national HELP) had $300 in the bank," Hibbs said.
With a private donation of $5,000, he assimilated most of the local group and formed his own genital herpes organization -- HELP of Washington. It is a nonprofit, tax-exempt enterprise, not affiliated in any way with the national HELP organization.
HELP of Washington has a five-member board of directors and, according to Hibbs, has been averaging about five new members a month. He would not reveal the total membership. The group, which does not have its own office, has been holding occasional seminars and weekly self-help discussions at the Martin Luther King library on G Street NW.
Hibbs declined in the interview to say how much money he has raised for HELP of Washington, where he has served as executive director. "Right now we are down to zilch . . . In terms of funding, we hope to get funding from grants," Hibbs said. "We're writing to groups like the March of Dimes, to corporations and foundations . . . "
According to HELP of Washington's April newsletter, the group now is seeking a federal grant with the University of Maryland School of Medicine for a joint study of Herpes Simplex Virus.
Hibbs' work with the herpes organization was his second endeavor with a nonprofit group. In 1976, two years after he arrived in Washington, Hibbs said he founded the National Ecumenical Coalition, which was granted tax-exempt status by the IRS in June 1977. His application for tax-exempt status said: "The basic function of NEC is to provide a ways and means to undertake, promote, develop and carry on charitable religious, literary, educational or social welfare activities." The application also said that the organization had a 50-member board of directors, with three paid staffers on the executive committee.
According to Hibbs, the NEC is still functioning, although his work for it has diminished since he began devoting his time to the herpes cause. Father John Hotchkin, director of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said he is familiar with most of the ecumenical groups nationwide, said in an interview that he had never heard of the National Ecumenical Coalition.
When a reporter called the NEC telephone number in Washington last month, an answering service operator referred the caller to "Father Hibbs." Hibbs said in his interview that the NEC is located at 1000 Connecticut Ave. A check of the building directory in the high-rise office at that address one week later showed no listing for the NEC. Recent attempts to reach the NEC have been unsuccessful.
Hibbs said that his career changes -- and his experience with herpes -- have caused him personal problems. "You are dealing with someone that has gone from a church to an abortion clinic . . . now to a sexually transmitted disease," he said. "And suddenly I have no friends."
Also contributing to this story was special correspondent Ned Corrigan.