Vatican defends pope's stand on condoms as criticism mounts

Wed Mar 18, 2009 4:34pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - The Vatican on Wednesday defended Pope Benedict's opposition to the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS as scientists and countries including his native Germany criticized it as unrealistic and dangerous.

Benedict, arriving in Africa, said on Tuesday that condoms "increase the problem" of AIDS. The comment, made to reporters aboard his plane, caused a worldwide storm of criticism.

"My reaction is that this represents a major step backwards in terms of global health education, is entirely counter-productive, and is likely to lead to increases in HIV infection in Africa and elsewhere," said Prof Quentin Sattentau, Professor of Immunology at Britain's Oxford University.

"There is a large body of published evidence demonstrating that condom use reduces the risk of acquiring HIV infection, but does not lead to increased sexual activity," he said.

The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS.

Asked about the criticism, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope was "maintaining the position of his predecessors".

European governments weighed in with their criticism.

His native Germany, which had criticized him last month over his decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, argued that condoms played a decisive role in saving lives in the fight against AIDS.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI waves at the crowd from his Popemobile at the end of the mass of Vespers at Marie Reine des Aprotes Basilic in Yaounde March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>