Vatican City Critics of the Catholic Church’s social teachings are trying to intimidate Pope Benedict XVI into silence, the Vatican charged Friday in responding to attacks on the pontiff’s remarks about AIDS and condom use.
In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican defended the pope’s view that condoms aren’t the answer to Africa’s AIDS epidemic and could make it worse. On his way to Africa last month, he said the best strategy is the church’s effort to promote sexual responsibility through abstinence and monogamy.
France, Germany, the United Nations’ AIDS-fighting agency and the British medical journal The Lancet called the remarks irresponsible and dangerous. The Belgian parliament passed a resolution calling them “unacceptable” and demanded Belgium’s government officially protest.
Belgium’s ambassador to the Holy See lodged the formal protest Wednesday, prompting the Vatican Secretariat to issue its tough statement denouncing the Belgian vote.
The Vatican deplored “the fact that a parliamentary assembly should have thought it appropriate to criticize the Holy Father on the basis of an isolated extract from an interview, separated from its context.”
It said Benedict’s remarks to reporters had been “used by some groups with a clear intent to intimidate, as if to dissuade the pope from expressing himself on certain themes of obvious moral relevance and from teaching the church’s doctrine.”
The Vatican said the criticism of the pontiff was followed by an “unprecedented media campaign” in Europe extolling the value of condoms in fighting AIDS while ignoring Benedict’s message about the need for responsible sexuality and to care for those suffering from AIDS.
The statement was the latest sign of the Vatican’s increasing defensiveness and frustration as it tries to get Benedict’s message out. It follows a maelstrom of criticism — including from within the church itself — after the pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.
Vatican officials said they acted so forcefully this time because the Belgian criticism required a formal, diplomatic response.