France on Wednesday slammed Pope Benedict XVI's claim that condoms are worsening the AIDS epidemic, saying it would harm global efforts to tackle the spread of the disease.
"France voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of Benedict XVI's comments," foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier told reporters.
"While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life," he said.
France believes that alongside "information, education and testing, the condom is a fundamental element of the actions to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus," Chevallier said.
He said Paris was "committed to universal access to prevention, treatment and medical care" in tackling the AIDS epidemic.
Benedict XVI began his first visit as pope to AIDS-ravaged Africa on Tuesday, telling reporters that AIDS was a tragedy "that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
The solution lies in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer," he said.
French medical charity Medecins du Monde lashed out at the pope, saying "millions of people are going to be contaminated because of these remarks."
"We are very angry because this undermines years of work," the charity said.
Several French politicians joined the chorus of anger, with former prime minister Alain Juppe saying that "this pope is starting to be a real problem" because he lives in "a situation of total autism."
French Communist leader Marie-George Buffet attacked the pope's comments as "criminal."
"We've had enough of this pope," the German Green European deputy, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, told French radio, describing Benedict's remarks as "close to premeditated murder."
Michel Kazatchkine, the French head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, demanded that the pope retract the statement, saying "these remarks are unacceptable."
"It's a denial of the epidemic. And to make these remarks on a continent that unfortunately is a continent where 70 percent of the people who have AIDS die, it's absolutely unbelievable," he told France Inter radio.
But one staunchly Catholic French government minister stopped short of criticising the pontiff.
Housing Minister Christine Boutin, who has fiercely opposed abortion, morning-after pills and gay marriage, said the fight against AIDS was "much more to do with medical and pharmaceutical research."
On the question of condom use, "everybody does what he can or wants to do," she said, adding that "one shouldn't expect the pope to say that you should wear a condom."
"I think that it's no fun putting on a condom when you make love," she said.