ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis has dismissed a question about whether condoms can be condoned in the fight against AIDS by saying there are more important issues confronting the world, like malnutrition, environmental exploitation and the lack of safe drinking water.
Francis was asked about the church's opposition to condoms while returning Monday to Rome from Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Africa in general and Kenya and Uganda in particular have been hard hit by the AIDS epidemic, and the Catholic Church has faced criticism that its position has contributed to the problem.
Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, earned the wrath of health care professionals, gay rights activists and the U.N. by saying on a visit to Africa that condoms weren't the answer to fighting HIV and can actually make it worse.
Francis has made scant reference to AIDS in his speeches this past week. He did, however, visit with HIV-infected children at a Uganda hospital and kissed each one, listened to moving testimony from a girl born with the virus and thanked the church's health care workers for caring for those infected.
A clearly irked Francis criticized the question directed at him during his in-flight press conference about whether the church should change its position on condoms to limit HIV's spread. He said it "seems too small, partial," when there are bigger issues confronting humanity.
"I don't like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don't have water or food or housing," he said.
He said when those problems are taken care of, questions like condoms and AIDS can be addressed.
Francis has previously signaled that he doesn't want to get drawn into culture war issues over contraception or abortion, and his response Monday was very much in that line.
Francis was euphoric, though, about his first trip to Africa, saying he was constantly surprised by the continent and the ability of its people to find joy with so little.
He denounced how Africa has constantly been exploited by foreign powers, citing the slave trade and those who "only look to take Africa's riches."
"Africa is a martyr, it's a martyr of exploitation over history," he said. "I love Africa for this."