TRENTON, N.J. -- The New Jersey Catholic Conference, representing the state's Roman Catholic dioceses, issued a statement this week that calls for appointing "pastoral ministers" to help AIDS patients and stipulates that students with AIDS shall not be barred from Catholic schools.
The policy statement also forbids discrimination against AIDS patients who work for the church and says that no one having the disease should be turned away from a Catholic social service agency.
"We believe it is critical that all Catholics become educated about the nature of this disease so that they may treat persons with AIDS and their families with sensitivity, understanding and compassion," said William F. Bolan Jr., the New Jersey conference's executive director.
Bolan said that the statement, a year in preparation, had its roots in a review of the question of whether students with AIDS should be allowed to attend Catholic schools. The document was broadened by the conference into a look at overall policy concerning the debilitating disease. He said each of the state's bishops supports the directive.
"They're all in agreement on this, and they're all implementing this in their dioceses," he said.
The Rev. Thomas G. Gallagher, secretary for education with the U.S. Catholic Conference, said that about 25 of the nation's 180 dioceses had issued policy statements on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, all calling for "compassion, care and concern."
Gallagher said New Jersey and California were the only state conferences so far to issue statements.
The policy that students with the disease cannot be kept out of Catholic schools mirrors a rule in effect in New Jersey's public schools.
The statement also said that Catholics who die of AIDS are entitled to last rites and the burial mass.