PARIS — France, Germany and the U.N. agency charged with fighting AIDS disagreed with the pope's comment about condoms, saying Wednesday that they are a fundamental tool in preventing the spread of the HIV virus.
France "expresses its very strong concern about the consequences of the statements by Benedict XVI," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.
France is a traditionally Catholic country but is relatively liberal on social issues such as birth control.
During his first visit to Africa as pope, Benedict said in Cameroon Tuesday that the distribution of condoms could endanger public health and that they are not the solution to the fight against AIDS. "On the contrary, it increases the problem," the pope said.
"While it is not up to us to pass judgment on the doctrine of the Church, we consider that these statements endanger public health policies and the imperative to protect human life," Chevallier told an online briefing Wednesday.
"Along with information, education and testing, the condom is a fundamental element of actions to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus," he said.
Stance on condoms
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday that the pope was expressing a long-standing Vatican position, and that Benedict wanted to stress that a reliance on condoms distracted from the need for proper education in sexual conduct.
The Roman Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception.
In Berlin, German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul issued a joint declaration criticizing the pope's comments and underlining the importance of condom use in developing nations.
"Condoms save lives, in Europe as well as on other continents," the ministers said. "Modern assistance to the developing world today must make access to family planning available to the poorest of the poor — especially the use of condoms. Anything else would be irresponsible."
In Geneva, the U.N. AIDS fighting agency said that condoms are an important part of efforts against AIDS. It said prevention includes receiving information about the virus that causes AIDS, being faithful to one partner and other measures.
'Statements are terribly harmful'
In a statement, UNAIDS said countries should use all available strategies to prevent the more than 7,400 new HIV infections every day worldwide. It made no mention of the pope, but the statement came the day after Benedict's comments.
The head of the Global Fund, a Geneva-based group that raises money to fight AIDS, urged the pope to retract his comments.
"I think Africa, which is hit so hard (by AIDS), did not need this message," Michel Kazatchkine said on France's RTL radio. "Negationist statements are terribly harmful."
A conservative French government minister took the opposite stance.
"You are not going to expect the pope to say you must wear a condom," Christine Boutin, a practicing Catholic who has spoken out against France's liberal social policies in the past, said on RTL radio.
"It is not fun to put on a condom when you make love," she said.
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