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Lancet lashes out at Pope over condoms

By John O’Doherty

Published: March 27 2009 09:28 | Last updated: March 27 2009 10:01

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The Lancet has launched a stinging attack on the Pope for his opposition to the use of condoms, branding as “outrageous and wildly inaccurate” his argument that the prophylactics serve to increase HIV infection.

“By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue,” the journal said in an editorial released on Friday.

While the Vatican has long been opposed to the use of artificial contraception, Pope Benedict hardened his stance during his first visit to Africa, made last week, when he said that condom use actually increased the likelihood of HIV infection and the spread of AIDS.

“The problem [of AIDS] cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it,” he said to a French journalist, while on a flight to Cameroon.

The controversy forced the Vatican to subsequently try and finesse the pope’s comments, insisting he had been misunderstood.

“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear,” the Lancet editorial continued.

“But the comment still stands and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward. When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.”

The Pope’s comments on HIV have been seized upon by critics as another example of his detachment from the sensibilities of the modern world, following the furore last month over his decision to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist clerics. The men were followers of Marcel Lefebvre, a French archbishop who opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. One of those rehabilitated was a British bishop who questioned the existence of German gas chambers in the second world war.

Benedict also aroused the ire of critics in 2006, when at a speech in Regensburg, Germany he quoted from a 14th century Byzantine emperor who described Islam as “evil and inhuman”.

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