Eric Bepots is
convinced that he contracted HIV from a Catholic priest
who raped him in 1977. Never mind that he has no empirical
evidence to support that charge; never mind that the
AIDS virus wasn't discovered in humans until
1981--Bepots remains undaunted in his belief. In his
new, self-published book Vatican Conspiracy
Theory--an idiosyncratic compendium of
commentary and court documents from his lawsuit against the
Manchester, N.H., diocese, in which he sought $2.5 million
and settled in 2003 for $490,000--he alleges
that the Catholic Church has covered up his story and
others like it; he also calls for federal legislation that
would require churches to reveal the HIV status of priests
convicted of sex abuse.
Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church are undeniably guilty
of crimes against humanity," says Bepots (a
pseudonym). Hyperbole aside, the self-styled
activist-cum-author, 46, who now lives in Caribou, Maine, is
certainly shedding new light on a subject about which little
is known: HIV infection through clergy sex abuse.
doesn't remember many details of the 1977 incident
that instigated his crusade. What he does recall is
being invited one night that summer to the home of
"Father Willie," his priest at St. Mary Church
in Dover, N.H. The priest, according to Bepots,
drugged and raped him; he was 16, about to start his
senior year of high school, and a virgin. The
experience still haunts him today. "Parents tell you
to believe in fairy tales," he says,
"but I knew damn well after that assault that the
devil was walking the earth--and in this case
was walking around in a priest's body."
he moved away and tried not to think about what
happened. Then, in the late '80s, he found out
through a friend that Father Willie had died, and
immediately he assumed the worst. Although obituaries
at the time said the priest died after a long illness,
Bepots says he knew that it was AIDS--and that
he must have the disease too. When his friend
"said Willie was dead, I just about fell
over," he says. "I just intuitively knew
that if I tested positive, it would be because of
him." His suspicion was confirmed in 1991 by a
positive test result, which he says explained all the
times he had felt ill or had trouble catching his
breath ascending a flight of stairs. He says his partner was
HIV-negative and was tested regularly, and Father Willie was
the only other person Bepots had been with sexually.
people tend to believe that HIV and AIDS became widespread
only in the early 1980s, but think about
it--it's not like you got sick overnight
after being infected," he says. "Two doctors
told me that it was very possible that [the priest]
was positive before 1977 and that it's very
possible I had it since then and was [asymptomatic]. Doctors
just hadn't done enough research to know what
the disease was in the 1970s."
that's true or not, experts on the Catholic
Church's sex abuse scandals acknowledge that
some victims could have been infected with HIV by
their abusers. "I'm sure that many of the
abusive priests who died of AIDS, or who were rumored
to die of AIDS, did indeed infect their
victims," says Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of the
Waltham, Mass., watchdog group Bishop Accountability.
"It could be that these cases are simply hard
to prove and so are not reported."
Proving his own
case has become Bepots's mission in life. On medical
disability since 1994 because of his illness, and having
spent much of the past six years of his
life--and his settlement money--on the book
(available on Amazon.com) and residual lawsuit costs, he
says he's just trying to help people.
everybody has their tale of woe, but the reality is, in the
year 2007, when you are violently, sexually abused by
someone, regardless of age, color, or sexual
preference, you should have the right to know what
that person's HIV status is," he says.
"You should have the right to know whether you
were [infected] by that person."