Following protests from across the world at Pope Benedict's pronouncement that condom use could aggravate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the British government has been challenged on its position.
Health campaigners have been surprised at the silence from 10 Downing Street over the affair. Gordon Brown is keen for the Pope to visit the UK in the near future. As he has visited the Vatican recently, it is thought the Prime Minister is reticent about upsetting the Holy See.
But the British Humanist Association says that the government should come off the fence.
Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said yesterday: "The Pope’s recent comments stating that condoms may actually increase the problem of HIV/AIDS are not only grossly irresponsible, they fly in the face of reason, science and evidence."
He added: "We are calling on the Government to ask whether they will condemn that position and whether they will make their position clear to the Vatican."
Mr Copson continued: "Several European governments have already publicly condemned these remarks which is excellent. It shows that they will not acquiesce to this largely unshared and ignorant position. We look forward to our Government similarly making public its position."
A statement was issued today by the Department for International Development, affirming that condoms are helpful as part of the fight against AIDS infection. But it is being seen as a fairly 'low level' response.
The Vatican is being swamped by international anger over the Pope's claim on his first official visit to Africa that Aids "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems" in spite of a later semi-correction.
The Pope's remarks about condoms, the recent furore over his lifting of the 20-year excommunication of an illicitly ordained British bishop who denied the Holocaust and the fury caused in the Muslim world by comments made by the Pontiff in an academic address in Germany are part of a series of failures which threaten the credibility of his papacy, say critics.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, this is prompting calls for a radical shake-up of the way the Holy See delivers its message.