VATICAN CITY – The Belgian parliament’s decision to lodge a formal protest against the Vatican for Pope Benedict XVI’s comments concerning the use of condoms in AIDS prevention “evokes bewilderment,” the Vatican spokesman said.
“It seems obvious that in every democratic country the Holy Father and the Catholic Church are free to express their own positions and line of action” concerning the human person and the moral responsibility of individuals, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said in comments aired on Vatican Radio April 3.
“The extensive tradition and experience of the church in education and health care, especially in poor countries, is so evident there is no need for proof or comments” to further support the church’s position, he said.
Father Lombardi said it was worth asking whether the Belgian parliament had reflected “with sufficient attention and seriousness” on what the pope really said or if parliamentarians had instead reacted to statements that had been manipulated by the media “through a filter that was not objective and balanced.”
Meanwhile, Belgium’s Catholic bishops said they respect the democratic nature of the parliament’s deliberations, “but regret the content” of the decision.
In a written statement released April 3, they appealed for a calm reflection on all means to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The Belgian parliament voted overwhelmingly April 2 to approve a motion “urging the Belgian government to condemn the unacceptable stance taken by the pope on the occasion of his trip to Africa and to lodge an official protest with the Holy See,” reported the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
The parliament approved the motion by a 95-18 vote, with seven abstentions.
The move was the latest in a storm of criticism coming from some governments and U.N. agencies concerning the pope’s remarks in mid-March as he flew to visit Africa.
The pope was asked about condoms in AIDS prevention by reporters aboard his flight to Cameroon March 17. After highlighting the church’s efforts to help AIDS victims, the pope said: “One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.”
“The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress,” he said.
Studies by international agencies, including the World Health Organization, have shown that the most effective anti-AIDS campaigns in Africa have been based on efforts to promote abstinence and fidelity in sexual relations, said a March 22 article in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The idea that condom distribution can arrest the spread of the virus in Africa is an “ideological falsehood,” said the commentary.