March 18, 2009 / 1:53 PM / 10 years ago

France condemns Pope's remarks on condoms in Africa

PARIS (Reuters) - France criticized Pope Benedict Wednesday for reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of condoms to help fight AIDS at the start of a visit to Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI (C) arrives to meet President of Cameroon Paul Biya and his wife Chantal (L) at Unity Palace in Yaounde March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

“France expresses its very strong concern with regard to the consequences of Benedict XVI’s comments,” foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said in a regular media briefing.

“While it is not up to us to pass a judgment on the doctrines of the Church, we consider that such remarks put in danger public health policy and imperative needs regarding the protection of human life.”

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 AIDS.

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 just reiterating established Church policy.

The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. It does not approve condoms, but some Church leaders have been calling for their use to be allowed where one partner in a married heterosexual couple has the disease.

Chevallier said France was strongly engaged in efforts to prevent and treat AIDS and care for sufferers of the disease.

“Along with education and screening, condoms are a fundamental part of actions to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus,” he said.

Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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