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“Contraception is not the worst evil. The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst,” he told the Associated Press. “Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility.”

He said the pope broached the topic because questions about condoms and AIDS persisted.

“This pope gave this interview. He was not foolish. It was intentional. He thought that this was a way of bringing up many questions. Why? Because it’s true that the church sometimes has not been too clear,” Monsignor Suaudeau said.

Luigi Accatoli, a veteran Vatican journalist who was on the Vatican panel to launch the book, put it this way:

“He spoke with caution and courage of a pragmatic way through which missionaries and other ecclesial workers can help to defeat the pandemic of AIDS without approving but also without excluding — in particular cases — the use of a condom,”Mr.  Accatoli said.

Associated Press reporters Victor L. Simpson in Rome and Jason Straziuso in Nairobi contributed to this report.