A senior French minister on Sunday condemned Pope Benedict XVI's comments against the use of condoms as "criminal" while new protests were held against the pontiff.
"To go to Africa and tell people they shouldn't use condoms is criminal," France's Education Minister Xavier Darcos told French broadcaster Radio J. AIDS "causes deaths every day," he added.
Advertisement"I think the Pope's comments were a bit distorted but all the same, to not encourage using condoms in developing countries is extremely dangerous," said Darcos, who said that he is Roman Catholic.
The pope said at his weekly prayers at the Vatican that he had felt "deep emotion" on his trip to Cameroon and Angola which was overshadowed by the condom controversy.
"This visit helped me better understand the reality of the Church in Africa, in all its various experiences and the challenges it must face," he said.
He said on a plane taking him to Cameroon that AIDS "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
The comments have sparked international criticism from governments, UN agencies and health groups.
About 60 members of gay and lesbian groups staged an anti-pope demonstration outside the Fourviere basilica in Lyon as the congregation arrived for Sunday mass given by the archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin.
The protesters put up a banner outside the church stating "the condom, it's life, the church bans it".
Clashes broke out outside Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris last week when AIDS activists staged protests against Benedict.
Parliamentarians from a grouping of 12 French-speaking countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas said on Saturday that they "strongly regretted" Benedict's comments which they warned could have "serious consequences."
The comments "go against efforts made for many years... against the scourge of AIDS," they said in a declaration at a meeting in Luxembourg.
A group of Belgian lawmakers tabled a resolution in their country's parliament on Thursday to condemn the Pope's comments. One deputy called for the Belgian ambassador to the Vatican to be recalled in protest.
Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said that, if required by parliament, he was ready to summon the Vatican envoy to Belgium "to tell him the Pope is mistaken."
And Portuguese bishop Ilidio Leandro on Saturday openly contradicted Benedict, saying people with AIDS were "morally obliged" to use them if they had sex.