Tony Blair has told religious leaders to "face up to reality" and drop their opposition to condoms to help the fight against Aids.
In a pointed criticism of the Vatican's stance on contraception, Mr Blair used a television interview on World Aids Day to insist that preaching abstinence was not enough. Speaking to MTV, Mr Blair said: "The danger is if we have a sort of blanket ban from religious hierarchy saying it's wrong to do it, then you discourage people from doing it in circumstances where they need to protect their lives."
Mr Blair, who has attended mass at Westminster Cathedral, spoke out amid speculation that the Vatican was preparing to ease its opposition to condoms. The Vatican says abstinence is the best way to tackle HIV/Aids, but in April, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, said the use of condoms was "a lesser evil" in relationships where one partner had HIV/Aids, prompting speculation that the Vatican was preparing to relax its position.
Last month, a 200-page report on condom use commissioned by Pope Benedict was passed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican has been heavily criticised for its stance on sex and homosexuality.
Mr Blair insisted that the Government would increase the number of condoms distributed in the developing world. He said: "We are spending £1.5bn over the next few years trying to fight HIV/Aids. It's also very important that we work on prevention, and we are planning to uplift the amount of condoms that we will be distributing too. They may be sex workers, they may be women in a difficult situation. If they don't get that help, there's no point in being prissy about it, then they end up with HIV/Aids."
Mr Blair said that he and his wife had taught the "facts of life" to their children as a couple.
"When I was growing up it was more to do with telling youngsters about the actual act of sex. I think what it is about now is telling them about the dangers of having unprotected sex," he said.
Mr Blair insisted that people should be encouraged to protect themselves against HIV, and that it was "silly" to say otherwise.
He said: "I think that the real key to it is education. That is about two things: educating people about sex when they are young, but also making sure that if people are sexually active, then they are taking protection. There is a big debate about this; how far are you going by saying to people, 'take protection with you'? Are you encouraging young people to have sex?" Mr Blair added: "You should try to encourage people to be responsible, but you should recognise that, if you are sexually active, it's better to be sexually active and responsibly so."Reuse content