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Vatican Defends Pope Condom Comments

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Pope Benedict XVI met with African bishops in Cameroon on the second day of a week-long visit to Africa. The pontiff has angered some AIDS activists by saying that the use of condoms is aggravating the spread of the disease.

Pope Benedict told Catholic bishops to defend the rights of the poor and protect the essential values of the African family in a meeting to prepare for an African synod at the Vatican in October.

The pope told bishops that their mission leads them to encourage charity and said they should be eager to promote a better understanding of what he called "the nature, dignity, and role of marriage, which presupposes an indissoluble and stable union."

Pope Benedict XVI, right, seen, with Cameroon's President Paul Biya, during a meeting at the Unity Presidential Palace in Yaounde, Cameroon, 18 Mar 2009
Pope Benedict XVI, right, seen, with Cameroon's President Paul Biya, during a meeting at the Unity Presidential Palace in Yaounde, Cameroon, 18 Mar 2009

Pope Benedict met earlier in the day with Cameroonian President Paul Biya whose political opponents have called on the pontiff to speak out against human rights abuses. Amnesty International says the Biya government is using extrajudicial execution, arbitrary arrest, torture, and unlawful detention to repress political dissent.

At the start of his visit, the pope called for action against corruption and abuse of power. Without specifically mentioning President Biya or Cameroon, the pontiff said Christians can never remain silent in the face of suffering or violence.

Cameroonian Harouna Nasser hopes the pope's visit changes things.

"We are very happy to welcome the pope this week in Cameroon, because as he is here he can pray with us and he can drive some curses in this our country," said Nasser. "Because as he is here many things will change in this our country, things like corruption and some disasters because he can pray for that."

So far, the pope's trip to Africa has been dominated by reaction to his continued opposition to the use of condoms as a way to fight AIDS. He says distributing condoms only increases the problem. The pope says combating the spread of AIDS requires a "spiritual and human awakening," friendship for those who suffer, and a "responsible, moral attitude toward sex."

The United Nations estimates that 22 million Africans have the virus that leads to AIDS. Three-quarters of the world's AIDS deaths in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa where most health officials recommend condoms as a way to prevent its spread.

French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Eric Chevallier voiced sharp concern over the consequences of the pope's comments, telling reporters that while it is not up to the French government to pass judgment on church doctrine, Paris believes such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life.

Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi is defending the church's approach to AIDS. He says Pope Benedict is putting the emphasis on education. Lombardi told reporters in Yaounde that developing an ideology of confidence in condoms is not correct because it fails to focus on personal responsibility.

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