A campaign on Facebook has recruited tens of thousands of supporters to bombard the Vatican with condoms to protest against the Pope's controversial remarks about the spread of HIV.
Organisers have claimed that 60,000 have pledged to send prophylactics to the Pontiff as a result of the call on the social networking site. The Italians behind the initiative hope they will be joined by Facebook groups around the world, including from Britain and the United States: "The campaign is spreading across Europe, with thousands of supporters in France, England, Germany, Austria and Bulgaria."
Benedict XVI was deluged with criticism after stating that condoms "aggravate" the spread of the disease. The Lancet, Britain's leading medical journal, used an editorial to accuse Benedict of having distorted scientific evidence in order to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The Vatican maintains that the use of condoms promotes promiscuity and that fidelity to one partner or total abstinence from sex are the best ways of combating the disease.
The Pope made the remarks last week to journalists on board his official plane as he flew to Cameroon on the first leg of a week-long Africa trip – the first of his papacy – which also took him to Angola.
Senior Catholics rallied to the Pope's defence this week, with the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, saying the depth of opprobrium directed towards the pontiff had "been prolonged beyond good reason."