Clashes in France after anti-condom speech by Pope

Monday, March 23, 2009

Far-right and far-left activists clashed Sunday, when the far-left were protesting Pope Benedict XVI's opposition to condoms, a police source in Paris, France said.

A group of about 30 activists threw condoms on the ground outside Notre-Dame cathedral, when attendants of the Sunday mass left the cathedral.

Pope Benedict
Image: Agência Brasil.

The police arrested three people after the incident. About 20 youths, some of whom were carrying signs reading "Leave my Pope alone" approached the protesters. One person was injured.

On Tuesday, after arriving in Africa, the Pope stated that "you can't resolve it [AIDS] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem." He suggested that sexual behavior was the issue that should be focused on and that the solution must be found in "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer".

The comments were criticized by French politicians from all parties. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the Pope's comments "the opposite of tolerance and understanding" and Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said she was "dumbfounded" by them. According to UNAIDS about 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, about two-thirds of all people living with HIV. AIDS-awareness activists Act Up-Paris said in a statement that "by refusing to allow the promotion of condoms, the Catholic Church has millions of deaths on its conscience". Act Up-Paris also organized a "die-in" outside the Notre-Dame on Sunday and carried portraits of the Pope with the slogan "Benoit XVI Assasin."

France is traditionally a Catholic country, although many are non-practicing. On the Pope's last visit to France in 2008, around 200,000 people visited the open-air service in Paris. However, a recent CSA poll by Le Parisien showed that 57% of the 1,102 adult respondents have a negative opinion of the Pope, up from 25% in September 2008, just before his visit to France; 23% has a positive opinion, down from 53%; the remainder has no opinion. A separate IFOP poll by Journal du Dimanche showed that 43% of French Catholics want the pontiff to leave.

It was not the only incident during the Pope's journey through Africa that received a lot of criticism. Earlier this week, on the plane to Cameroon, the Pope judged sexual abuse of women, but at the same time stated that abortion in the case of incest or rape, which is legal in 45 African countries, should not be an option.

Today, the Pope returns to The Vatican.