updated 4/20/2008 12:19:47 PM ET 2008-04-20T16:19:47

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, a Colombian prelate who helped lead the Vatican's campaign against abortion and insisted condoms do not prevent transmission of the AIDS-causing virus, has died in a Rome hospital, one of his assistants said Sunday. He was 72.

Lopez Trujillo died Saturday night at the Pius XI private clinic, where he had been admitted for tests on March 17, Monsignor Jorge Raigosa said.

He died after suffering cardiac arrest following various medical complications over several weeks that had put the cardinal in intensive care at times, said Raigosa, declining to elaborate.

Vatican Radio said the cardinal had been hospitalized for "grave health problems."

A year ago, Lopez Trujillo traveled to Mexico to kick off the Roman Catholic Church's aggressive campaign against plans in the predominantly Catholic country to legalize abortion. Catholic teaching forbids abortion as a grave sin.

The cardinal inaugurated an international anti-abortion conference in Mexico City by celebrating Mass in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most important Catholic shrine in the Americas.

Lopez Trujillo made headlines in 2003 for saying that condoms do not prevent HIV/AIDS. He contended that condoms might even help spread HIV/AIDS through a false sense of security.

The cardinal headed the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family since 1990.

Priests for Life, an organization which seeks to end abortion and euthanasia, hailed Lopez Trujillo as "one of the Church's strongest advocates for the dignity of the human person and the family."

"He knew and often said that the Church's pro-life stance was not just a teaching, but a battle," said the Rev. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life national director, in a statement.

Born in 1935 in Villahermosa, Colombia, Lopez Trujillo moved with his family when he was a young boy to Bogota, the South American country's capital. While a university student, he decided to attend a seminary, and later received a philosophy degree from Rome's prestigious Angelicum university.

Lopez Trujillo was ordained a priest in 1960 and made a bishop in 1971 by Pope Paul VI. He later headed the Latin American bishops' conference, CELAM.

He was archbishop of Medellin in 1979 when Pope John Paul II attended a CELAM conference, and in 1983, was elevated to cardinal's rank by the pontiff.

With Lopez Trujillo's death, the number of cardinals eligible to elect a pontiff drops to 118, Vatican Radio said.

Raigosa said that Pope Benedict XVI was expected to celebrate a funeral Mass for the cardinal at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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