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 CNS Story:

CONDOMS-REACT (UPDATED) Mar-20-2009 (650 words) xxxi

European leaders criticize pope's reported remarks about condoms

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Government officials in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium publicly criticized Pope Benedict XVI after newspapers reported that he said the use of condoms could increase the spread of AIDS.

On his March 17 flight to Cameroon, Pope Benedict had told reporters, "One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem."

The pope said the best response to AIDS was educating people in morally responsible sexual behavior and caring for those who are sick.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters March 18 that the pope's comments on the plane were in line with the church's basic position on AIDS, which has never had "excessive or absolute trust in condom distribution" as a way to stop the spread of the disease.

The church's approach is based largely on education toward sexual responsibility, the spokesman said, and overemphasis on condoms "does not allow for an adequate concentration of attention on this formation and sense of responsibility."

Father Lombardi's statement came as several government ministers in Europe criticized the pope's remarks as a dangerous condemnation of widespread education programs that urge people to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In response to the pope's remarks, Bernat Soria Escoms, Spain's health minister, announced March 18 that his office would send 1 million condoms to Africa because "the condom has been shown to be a necessary part of prevention policies and an effective barrier against the virus."

Germany's development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, and the country's health minister, Ulla Schmidt, said in a joint statement March 18 that AIDS "remains one of the major threats to humanity," and condoms "play a crucial role" in preventing its spread.

"Condoms save lives," they said, adding that international aid and development programs must work to give the world's poor access to everything they need to fight the disease, "most notably, the use of condoms. Anything else would be irresponsible."

Eric Chevallier, the spokesman for France's foreign ministry, said his government would not criticize Catholic doctrine, but the pope's remarks about condoms "endanger public health policies and the imperative to protect human life."

Bert Koenders, the Dutch development minister, issued a statement saying, "It is extremely harmful and very serious that this pope is forbidding people from protecting themselves" by using condoms.

Koenders also said the pope was "out of touch with reality."

Belgium's minister of public health, Laurette Onkelinx, said in a March 17 statement that she was amazed by the pope's remarks.

"Such remarks, made by the head of the church in the 21st century, despite the unanimous recommendations of the scientific world in the matter, are the reflection of a dangerous doctrine. His statements could undo years of prevention and awareness and endanger many lives," her statement said.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told reporters March 20 that the pope's remarks reflected the constant teaching of the church and said that often conflicts with modern society's tendency toward "moral relativism."

"This is how it goes: When the pope says something they like, people put him on a pedestal, they praise him. When he says something that has always been in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church and they don't like it, then they criticize," he said.

The criticisms, he said, are "an expression of that moral relativism, that individualism that shuts out all moral rules."

"The church does not accept this relativism and therefore it says and reaffirms those rules and principles that it has always professed and taught," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Martino said, "There will be another pope and -- like the ones before him -- he will say the same things because we are, we must be, faithful to Christ's teachings."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz.


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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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