LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - A prestigious medical journal on Friday accused Pope Benedict of distorting scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine by saying that condoms increase the spread of AIDS.
The Lancet in an editorial called on the Pope to retract the comments made last week, saying anything less would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates fighting to contain the disease.
"When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," the editorial said.
"By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on the issue."
During his first visit to Africa, the Pope told reporters that AIDS is a problem that "cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms; on the contrary, they increase it."
The comment ignited a firestorm of criticism from health officials, activists and politicians who criticised that view as unrealistic, unscientific and dangerous.
The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. The Vatican also says condoms can lead to risky behaviour but many contest that view.
Health experts say there is no scientific evidence showing that condom use spurs people to take more sexual risks and in fact studies show that condom use reduces the risk of acquiring HIV infection.
The AIDS virus infects an estimated 33 million people globally, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and has killed 25 million. There is no cure. (Reporting by Michael Kahn)