Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pope Says Condoms Make the Aids Epidemic Worse


The Pope courted further controversy on his first trip to Africa today 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 "a cruel epidemic which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent", but reiterated 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".

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".

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, the Vatican Health Minister, 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. A subsequent Vatican study of the issue reiterated the blanket ban on condoms, however.

In 2003 a senior Vatican official claimed condoms had tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass, exposing thousands of people to risk.

The then head of the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, said: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom."

He added "These margins of uncertainty... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger."

The World Health Organisation responded at the time by saying that "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."

The WHO said that "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent.

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