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French human rights minister Rama Yade said she was “dumbfounded” by the pope’s comments. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called them “the opposite of tolerance and understanding.”

France is traditionally a Catholic country, although less than 10 percent of the population attends Sunday Mass. Germany and Belgium also criticized his message, as did some AIDS activists in Africa.

The condemnation was not unanimous, however.

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio community, which fights AIDS in Africa, dismissed the criticism of the pope as conformism.

“As soon as he speaks, people say he is wrong and as soon as he says something, people look for the mistake,” he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.