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Vatican deplores censure of pope on condoms

The Vatican on Friday deplored a Belgian parliamentary resolution condemning Pope Benedict for saying that the use of condoms could worsen the spread of AIDS.
/ Source: Reuters

The Vatican on Friday deplored a Belgian parliamentary resolution condemning Pope Benedict for saying that the use of condoms could worsen the spread of AIDS.

The Vatican, in a statement, said the criticism of the pope had been inappropriate and added that "some groups" had used the episode in an attempt "to intimidate" the pontiff and stop him from speaking out about Church teachings.

The pope's controversial remarks last month provoked widespread criticism in the press and by health officials and politicians in Europe, but the Belgian censure was the first time a diplomatic protest had been made against the Vatican.

Belgium's envoy to the Holy See communicated the assembly's formal complaint to the Vatican on April 15, the Vatican said.

"(The Vatican) deplores the fact that a parliamentary assembly should have thought it appropriate to criticize the Holy Father on the basis of an isolated extract from an interview, separated from its context," the statement said.

It added that the phrase about condoms was "used by some groups with a clear intent to intimidate, as if to dissuade the pope from expressing himself on certain themes of obvious moral relevance and from teaching the Church's doctrine."

Storm of criticism
At the start of his first trip to Africa on March 17, Benedict said AIDS "cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem."

The comments led to unprecedented condemnations in editorials in the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other publications, and a storm of criticism by health officials and politicians in a number of countries.

An article in the British medical journal "The Lancet" accused the pope of having "distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine."

Former French prime minister Alain Juppe went as far as saying that Benedict seemed to be "living in a situation of total autism."

Diplomatic intervention
But the Belgian resolution brought the controversy to a diplomatic level.

The resolution also asked the Belgian government to "react strongly against any state or organization that in the future brings into doubt the benefit of using condoms to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus."

The Catholic Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage and abstinence from sex are the best ways to stop AIDS, and also says condoms can lead to risky behavior.

The Vatican statement said that the pope's broader arguments about combating AIDS were still "understood and appreciated, in particular by the Africans and the true friends of Africa."

HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, has infected some 33 million people globally and AIDS has killed 25 million. Two-thirds of those infected are in Africa.

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