By Hilary White

ROME, April 6, 2009 ( – A Vatican spokesman has said he is “shocked” at the news that the government of Belgium passed a formal resolution calling the Pope’s comments on condoms and the spread of HIV/AIDS “unacceptable.”

The resolution, passed by a 95-18 vote, calls for the government to “react strongly against any state or organisation that in the future brings into doubt the benefit of using condoms to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus.” In addition the resolution said that the Belgian envoy to the Vatican must “condemn the unacceptable affirmations of the Pope during his trip to Africa and to protest officially to the Holy See.”

Pope Benedict XVI sparked a firestorm of protest from the media, homosexualist organisations and condom-promoting international AIDS organisations, when, speaking to journalists on the flight taking him to Africa, he said that condoms not only do not help, but exacerbate the problem of AIDS.

Belgian Premier Herman Van Rompuy said he will support the motion saying, “It is not the Pope’s job to shed doubts on public health policies which are unanimously supported and save lives every day.”

Since the pope made his comment, European government officials from Germany, France, Spain, and Luxembourg have been quoted as protesting the remarks, but the Belgian resolution is the first official diplomatic response.

Fr. Frederico Lombardi, the Pope’s official spokesman, on Friday expressed his “astonishment” over the decision. “It would appear to be obvious to any democratic country that the Holy Father and the Catholic Church are free to express their own positions,” he said.

Lombardi added, “It also needs to be asked whether the Holy Father’s position has been considered with sufficient attention and seriousness, or instead through a subjective and unbalanced filter of news items in the Western press.”

The Belgian Catholic bishops issued a note on Friday saying that they “respect the democratic character of this decision, but lament its content.” The resolution, they said, didn’t take into account Benedict XVI’s overall message, that “without an education in responsible education, all other methods of prevention will fall short.”

“What our country and Africa need is a calm reflection about the means that need to be put into practice to stop the AIDS pandemic.”

Last week, the Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI) used considerably stronger language, saying that the secular media, some European politicians and international organizations had “mocked” the pope with their “offensive” and “vulgar” attacks. The head of the (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said the media furor had “been prolonged beyond good reason.”

At the same time, a population expert from Harvard University wrote in a column in the Miami Herald that, putting aside hysteria in the media, it is possible that the Pope is right.

Dr. Edward C. Green, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote, “in truth, current empirical evidence supports him [the pope].”

Dr. Green wrote that the response in the media and among politicians is a result of the symbolic significance of the condom. To the sexually “liberated” West, it is “a symbol of freedom and – along with contraception – female emancipation” and anyone who opposes them, is opposed to these sexual “freedoms.”

But Dr. Green, speaking strictly from the empirical evidence as found in peer reviewed scientific journals since 2003, said that “condoms have not worked as an intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa.”

He quotes a 2008 article in the journal Science, in which ten AIDS experts concluded that “consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Read related coverage:

World Leaders, Condom-Promoting Forces Attack Pope Over Condom AIDS Remarks

To read Dr. Green’s column in the Miami Herald:
It’s possible the pope got it right