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Pope avoids
condom issue in AIDS message

Pope avoids
condom issue in AIDS message

Pope Benedict XVI said on Wednesday he felt close to victims of AIDS and encouraged efforts to find a cure for the killer disease, but he avoided the thorny issue of the Roman Catholic Church's ban on condoms.

"I feel close to those sick with AIDS and their families, and I invoke for them the help and comfort of the Lord," he said in his comment for Thursday's World AIDS Day.

However, the pope sidestepped the church's general position against condoms to stop the spread of HIV, a highly controversial stand that has drawn criticism from health workers both inside and outside the church.

This appeared to be a continuation of a policy adopted in the final months of the reign of his predecessor, John Paul II, in order not to provoke more criticism rather than any indication of an impending change in the regulation.

According to United Nations figures, nearly 5 million people were infected with HIV globally in 2005. Some 40.3 million people are living with the virus.

In his comments to pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square, the pope said AIDS statistics are "alarming" and praised those in the church working with AIDS sufferers. "I encourage the many initiatives being promoted to eliminate this disease," he said.

The church, which runs many hospitals and institutions to help AIDS victims, opposes the use of condoms because they are a form of contraception. It teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity, and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of HIV. The church says promoting condoms to fight the spread of AIDS fosters what it sees as immoral and hedonistic lifestyles and behavior that will only contribute to its spread.

In its message for World AIDS Day, the Vatican department on health issues said the spread of the disease was made worse by the "pansexual culture that devalues sexuality, reducing it to a mere pleasure without further significance." (Reuters)

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