On a recent tour of Africa, Pope Benedict XVI suggested condoms are unhelpful in the fight against AIDS. The controversy reignited after a top medical research journal added its voice to criticism of the pontiff.
There is no end in sight yet for the condom controversy
In an editorial, The Lancet said the pontiff's remarks were "wildly inaccurate" and could have "devastating consequences." The journal also questioned whether the pope's comments were made out of ignorance or as a deliberate attempt to support Catholic ideology.
It seems the whole world is now listening when the Pope speaks
The Lancet, one of the world's leading medical research journals, was emphatic about the impact of the pontiff's remarks and has called for the head of the Catholic Church to retract his remarks.
"When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," it said.
"Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide."
During his first tour of Africa earlier this month, Pope Benedict said that HIV/AIDS was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem."
The German, French and Belgian governments were quick to condemn the remarks, as were aid organizations. UNAIDS, the UN Population Fund and the World Health Organization (WHO) released statements defending the use of condoms as the "single, most efficient available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV."
French bishop fuels controversy
AIDS is ravaging much of sub-Saharan Africa and its victims are both young and old
Monsignor Andre Fort, the bishop of the French city of Orleans, fanned the flames of the dispute on Friday by supporting the pontiff's view of condoms. Fort told a French radio station on Friday that "on a cigarette pack there is written 'Danger.' We should be writing on a box of condoms: Reliability doubtful."
He also said that "all the scientists know it: the AIDS virus is infinitely smaller than a sperm. This is proof that the condom is not a 100 percent guarantee against AIDS."
The head of the National Agency for AIDS Research, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, was quick to fire back, telling France Info radio that Bishop Fort's comments were "totally false."
"We have data that prove that the condom is a fundamental element in blocking the AIDS virus during sex. This is an established fact," Delfraissy said.
Last week, the Vatican tried to ease the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict's comments in Africa, noting on its web site that he had actually said that condoms merely "risked" aggravating the problem of AIDS.
Health experts however say there is no scientific evidence showing that condom use spurs people to take more sexual risks.