The Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI's rejection of condoms as a way to stop HIV after international criticism Wednesday that he was weakening the fight against the disease.

France and Germany sharply critiqued Benedict's declaration that distributing condoms "increases" the AIDS problem. The French foreign ministry said the statement could "endanger public health policies and the imperative to protect human life."

Two German ministers said on Benedict's first full day as pope in Africa, a continent ravaged by HIV, that it was irresponsible to reject condoms. The U.N. agency charged with fighting AIDS also spoke out in favor of condom use.

Benedict told reporters on his flight Tuesday to Cameroon that a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," he said. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, described the criticism as

"echoes caused by some words by the pope on the AIDS problems."

Lombardi said the church's "essential principles" in its commitment against AIDS were "education about people's responsibility in the use of sexuality" and the "essential role of marriage and family." The Vatican has long rejected the use of all contraception.

Lombardi said in the written statement at the end of the second day of the weeklong papal visit that the church stresses treatment for "the widest number of sick," and "human and spiritual assistance" to AIDS patients.

The pope met with Cameroon President Paul Biya, one of Africa's longest-ruling strongmen. Biya has been in power since 1982 and recently was accused by Amnesty International of seeking to crush political opposition.

No details of the meeting at the presidential palace were given. Local churchmen have spoken out against human rights abuses and the newspaper Le Jour carried a front-page interview with Cameroon Cardinal Christian Tumi asking Biya not to run again in 2011.

Crowds were sparse as Benedict was driven through the city in a closed limousine.

He told Cameroon's 31 bishops that Christians must fight for social justice and urged them to defend the traditional African family from the dangers of modernity and secularization. He also asked them to help protect the poor from the impact of globalization.

Benedict said that while the Catholic church in Africa is the fastest growing in the world, it faces competition from increasingly popular evangelical movements and "the growing influence of superstitious forms of religion."

The German-born pope also said that exuberant African rites should not "obstruct" the liturgy of the Mass.

He called it the "duty" of Christians _ particularly economic and political leaders _ "to be guided by the church's social teaching, in order to contribute to the building up of a more just world where everyone can live with dignity."

The meeting with the bishops had long been planned for the cathedral in Yaounde, but construction there has not been finished. Lombardi said he was aware of allegations in the local media that the funds set aside were embezzled by clergy, but had no comment.

Benedict flies next to Angola.

The 81-year-old pontiff was holding up well in the torrid West African weather and felt "deeply moved" by the tens of thousands of people who turned out on the streets upon his arrival from Rome, Lombardi said.

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