French bishop sparks new row on condoms and AIDS

French bishop sparks new row on condoms and AIDS Paris - The bishop of the French city of Orleans, Monsignor Andre Fort, rekindled a row sparked by Pope Benedict XVI by telling a French radio station on Friday that condoms were ineffective in the prevention of AIDS.

"You know very well, and all the scientists know it: the AIDS virus is infinitely smaller than a sperm. This is proof that the condom is not a 100 per cent guarantie against AIDS," the bishop told Radio France.

"On a cigarette pack there is written 'Danger'. We should be writing on a box of condoms: Reliability doubtful," Fort added.

The comment came a little more than one week after the Pope told journalists accompanying him on a flight to Africa that AIDS "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even aggravate the problem."

That comment provoked a storm of protests worldwide, particularly in France, where Catholicism is the primary religion.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke for the government in condemning the pontiff's declaration as "a danger to public health policies and the protection of human life."

Criticism was also swift in coming on Friday. The head of the National Agency for AIDS Research, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, told 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.

The highly respected British medical journal The Lancet will join the fray tomorrow by publishing an editorial in its pages slamming the pope's statement on condoms.

In comments available on its website, the magazine described Benedict's comments as "outrageous and wildly inaccurate" and, in an uncharacteristically fierce attack, went on to say that "the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue."

The Lancet also called on the pontiff to retract his comments.

"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," the magazine said.

Last week, the Vatican tried to temper Pope Benedict's statement by noting on its web site that he had actually said that condoms merely "risked" aggravating the problem of AIDS. (dpa)