Pope Benedict XVI said on his way to Africa today that condoms were not the answer in the continent's fight against HIV, his first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with Aids patients.
Benedict had never directly addressed condom use. He has said that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against Aids. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.
"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the Pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."
Some priests and nuns working with those living with HIV/Aids question the church's opposition to condoms amid the pandemic ravaging Africa.
Benedict's first papal trip to Africa will take him to Cameroon and Angola. Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic Church, though it competes with Islam and evangelical churches.
The Pope also said today that he intends to make an appeal for "international solidarity" for Africa in the face of the global economic downturn.
He said that while the church does not propose specific economic solutions, it can give "spiritual and moral" suggestions.
Describing the current crisis as the consequence of "a deficit of ethics in economic structures," the Pope said: "It is here that the church can make a contribution."
On the plane, Benedict also dismissed the notion that he was facing increasing opposition and isolation within the church, particularly after an outreach to ultraconservatives that led to his lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.
"The myth of my solitude makes me laugh," the Pope said, adding that he can count on a network of friends and aides whom he sees every day.
In a letter to Catholic bishops released last week, the Pope made an unusual public acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes and turmoil in his church over the rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson.
While acknowledging mistakes were made in handling the affair, Benedict said he was saddened that he was criticised "with open hostility" even by those who should have known better.