Pope's criticism of condoms has mixed reaction

Controversy surrounding recent comments by Pope Benedict XVI about HIV in Africa has divided health groups and Roman Catholic organisations in Northamptonshire.

The pontiff was heavily criticised by health groups during his first papal visit to Africa last week when he argued that HIV and AIDS was a tragedy "that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem".

Simon Bellham, principal officer working with HIV charities at Northamptonshire County Council, said: "To say I disagree would be putting it mildly.

"When people have very few resources, to take away something that is cheap and effective to stop people becoming HIV positive is not right."

Austin Madu, president of the Northampton African Association, said he believed Pope Benedict XVI's comments were short-sighted, adding: "I think he was wrong to say what he said. He doesn't realise the enormity of the crisis. If you look at Nigeria, very few people know how HIV is transmitted. Some people think sexual intercourse is the only way of transmitting it.

"People use syringes which have been used on other people because people are trying to cut costs as they cannot afford to pay the hospital fees. People think that if they have sex with a virgin that it will cure them of HIV, it's diabolical.

"These are the areas where we need to enlighten them, it's about education. Condoms will help but they are not the answer."

Northampton Cathedral's Father John Udris said he was "disappointed" by the coverage of the Pope's visit as it focused too much on his remarks about condoms.

He said: "Of course the church is deeply concerned about AIDS, and committed to health education and prevention projects in Africa and across the world. I haven't seen any mention of the Pope's dramatic insistence that Christians must never be silent in the face of 'corruption and abuses of power'.

"As far as condoms are concerned, and our understanding of sex within the context of marital fidelity, our teaching is well-known and the Pope was simply reiterating it."

Catholic Agency for Overseas Development volunteer Frank Sudlow, who works for the Northampton branch in Grange Road, Eastfield, said he was neither surprised nor offended by the Pontiff's comments.

He said: "I don't find what he said particularly controversial, from what I read of what he said.

"The most sensible ways of dealing with HIV is the ABC methods, which stand for Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom use. I see it as Abstinence being the first way and condom use being the last way."