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Vatican slams Belgium's criticism of Pope's condom remarks

Latest update : 2009-04-17

The Vatican has condemned a Belgian parliamentary resolution criticising Pope Benedict for saying that condoms worsened the spread of AIDS in Africa. The pontiff's remarks, made on a flight to Cameroon in March, ignited a global controversy.

AFP - The Vatican criticised on Friday a Belgian parliamentary resolution that deemed "unacceptable" Pope Benedict XVI's suggestion that condoms are aggravating the spread of HIV-AIDS.

In a statement, it deplored that fact that the House of Representatives in Brussels "thought it appropriate to criticize the Holy Father on the basis of an isolated extract from an interview, separated from its context."

The pontiff's remarks, made on a flight to Cameroon in March, had been exploited by "some groups with a clear intent to intimidate," the Secretariat of State -- which acts as the Holy See's foreign ministry -- added.

Pope Benedict ignited a global firestorm when he was quoted as saying that HIV-AIDS "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

Roman Catholic doctrine rejects any form of contraception, even though public health experts agree that condoms are an effective way of checking the spread of HIV-AIDS.

By a vote of 95-18, the Belgian parliament urged the government on April 2 "to condemn the unacceptable stance taken by the pope on the occasion of his trip to Africa, and to lodge an official protest with the Holy See."

In its initial reaction, on the same day, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the resolution "caused bewilderment" but that it did not warrant comment given the church's track record in helping poor countries.

Seventy-five percent of Belgium's 10 million people are Roman Catholics.

Defending the pontiff, the Secretariat said Friday he had sought in his interview to explain that AIDS had to be tackled two ways -- "on the one hand through bringing out the human dimension of sexuality; and on the other, through true friendship and willingness to help persons who are suffering."

"He also emphasized the commitment of the church in both these areas," it added. "Without this moral and educational dimension, the battle against AIDS will not be won."

Despite an "unprecedented media campaign" in Europe, it continued, Benedict's stance was "understood and appreciated, in particular by the Africans and the true friends of Africa."

Clashes erupted outside Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris last month when AIDS activists staged protests against Benedict, while French Education Minister Xavier Darcos condemned the papal remarks as "criminal".

Date created : 2009-04-17