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PARIS (Reuters) - Senior French politicians of all colors roundly criticized Pope Benedict Wednesday for saying the use of condoms was complicating the fight against AIDS.
Benedict made the comment Tuesday as he was traveling to Africa, re-affirming the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to condoms. But French leaders said he had gone too far.
"I am very worried by what has happened. I think this is opposite of tolerance and understanding and I am very sorry about it," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said she was "dumbfounded" by the Pope's comments, saying it risked undermining the fight against AIDS. Other politicians went further, questioning whether the Pope's ability to run the Church.
"This Pope is beginning to pose a real problem," former Prime Minister Alain Juppe was quoted as saying by French television.
Pope Benedict seemed to be "living in a situation of total autism," Juppe said.
Veteran Greens politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit told France Info radio: "I've had enough of this Pope now."
More than 25 million people have died from AIDS since the early 1980's, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and some 22.5 million Africans are living with HIV, the virus that causes
The Pope's statement when he arrived on a visit to the Cameroon capital Yaounde Tuesday was one of his most explicit on the issue of condom distribution since his election in 2005.
"It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem," he said.
The comment caused a storm of criticism around the world. Papal officials said the Pope was reiterating established Church policy.
The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS and does not approve condoms.
However, French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Eric Chevallier said condoms played a vital role in AIDS prevention.
"Along with education and screening, condoms are a fundamental part of actions to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus," he said.
France is traditionally a Catholic country, although less than 10 percent of the population still attend Sunday mass. However, about 200,000 people turned out for an open-air service in Paris last year when the Pope visited the country and an opinion poll at the time showed a majority of French people had a positive view of the German-born Pontiff.
Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Angus MacSwan