As he began a visit to Africa, Pope Benedict reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to the use of condoms to fight AIDS. His comments have drawn criticism from many health organizations, AIDS activists and even some Catholics.
Embarking on a trip to Africa, where 22 million people are suffering from HIV, the infection which causes AIDs, Pope Benedict strongly denounced the use of condoms to stop the spread of the disease. He said you cannot overcome AIDS by just distributing condoms, instead that will increase it.
He urged leaders to focus on teaching religious values such as abstinence and fidelity. He said we need to talk about God, about the fundamental Christian values that are important for a strong Christian life.
These comments have drawn criticism from AIDS/HIV activists around the world, such as Rebecca Hodes, with Treatment Action Campaign, a South Africa based HIV/AIDS advocacy group.
"Our reaction is one of anger and sadness, because we know working in Africa for over 10 years in treating and preventing HIV, from the Treatment Action Campaign's perspective, that condoms are one of the very few evidence-based means of preventing HIV," she said.
There is dissent about condom use even within the Roman Catholic Church.
"Catholic workers in developing countries do give out condoms, Catholic nuns and priests do it quietly and in fear of their jobs, and bishops have spoken out. Bishop Kevin Dowling in Rustenburg, South Africa works with the poorest of the poor in the shanty towns. He has said that using condoms is not about preventing the transmission of life, it is about preventing the transmission of death," said Jon O'Brien, president of a group called Catholics For Choice.
The Catholic Church has long held the view that sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, not condoms, are the best ways to prevent the spread of the disease.