Pope criticised for 'dangerous' comments on condoms


POPE BENEDICT XVI has again found himself at the centre of a storm of international criticism, this time following comments he made about condoms.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the pope said Aids was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

He was speaking on a flight to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, which he is visiting as part of his first trip to Africa as pope. He will also visit Angola.

Some 22.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, according to the UN. This figure amounts to two-thirds of the number of people infected with the virus worldwide.

Among the pope’s many critics on this occasion have been spokespeople for the German, French and Belgian governments.

Without referring to the pope directly, Germany’s development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, and health minister, Ulla Schmidt, said in a joint statement yesterday that “condoms save lives, both in Europe and on other continents”.

“Modern development co-operation must give the poorest access to means of family planning. And that includes in particular the use of condoms. Everything else would be irresponsible,” they said.

In a statement, the French foreign ministry said France voiced “extremely sharp concern over the consequences of Benedict XVI’s comments”, which, it said, posed “a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life”.

“We consider that such remarks put in danger public health policy . . . regarding the protection of human life,” the statement added.

Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx said the pope’s comments reflected “a dangerous doctrinaire vision”.

A New York Times editorial yesterday said Pope Benedict “deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings” about condoms.

Quentin Sattentau, professor of immunology at the University of Oxford, also criticised the pontiff’s comments. He described them as “entirely counterproductive”, adding that there was “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”.

A Vatican spokesman said the pope was simply “maintaining the position of his predecessors”.