Condoms part of African Aids problem, says Pope
THE Pope walked into a new storm of controversy on his first trip to Africa yesterday by declaring that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic -- but were instead part of the problem.
In his first public comments on condom use, the Pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".
Pope Benedict has previously stressed that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against Aids. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.
After his election as Pope, Benedict described Aids as "a cruel epidemic which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent," but re-iterated the Vatican ban on the use of condoms.
He said the "traditional teaching of the Church" on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be "the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids".
Catholic and human rights activists condemned the Pope as once more showing himself out of touch with reality by advocating inhumane policies that would only increase the suffering of innocent people.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said: "This is a myopic view of sexuality and a nonsense based approach to public health. We have never argued that condoms are a panacea for Aids. But they are an absolutely vital health measure to help stem the spread of HIV and Aids."
He said Catholics in the developed world had long since rejected the ban on artificial birth control introduced by the Holy See in 1968.
He accused the Holy See of lobbying governmental and other organisations around the world to ensure that condoms were not part of aid packages.
"We know that for many people, abstinence does not work. In order to be free from HIV we have got to give people in developing countries the choices that we enjoy in the North."
Kevin Osborne, HIV adviser at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "All the evidence is that preaching sexual abstinence and fidelity will not solve the problems.
"The Pope's message is one that will alienate everybody. It is scary. It spreads stigma and creates a fertile breeding ground for the spread of HIV."
The Pope, who will also visit Angola, is making his first trip as Pontiff to Africa, the continent where the Roman Catholic Church is growing fastest.
Two years ago there was speculation that the Vatican might amend its ban on condoms after Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, said that in couples where one partner had HIV/Aids, the use of condoms was "a lesser evil".
Vatican Health Minister Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico also said condoms could sometimes be exceptionally condoned, for example when a married woman was unable to refuse her HIV-positive husband's sexual advances.
"You can defend yourself with any means," he said.
However, a subsequent Vatican study of the issue reiterated the blanket ban on condoms. (© The Times, London)