Catholic churches in the central Swiss city of Lucerne have sparked controversy this week with an AIDS awareness campaign that involves giving teenagers condoms bearing the slogan "protect thy neighbour as thyself." The churches started handing out the condoms on Monday as part of an effort to engage young people.
Florian Flohr who is a marketing and advertising consultant for Catholic church projects and activities in Lucerne, told Associated Press: "We needed something to appeal to people who wouldn't dream of talking to the church about that kind of issue."
He explained that the campaign is targeted at teenagers as young as 14 and includes talks to school classes about the devastating effect that AIDS is having in Africa.
"It's not about promoting promiscuous activity at all. We're using the condoms to prompt people to think about HIV and AIDS."
Flohr said the campaign has so far drawn mostly positive reactions, but some Catholics have expressed concern.
Officials from Basel diocese were unavailable for comment on Monday. A spokesman in the neighbouring diocese of Chur told Swiss television news that the condom campaign was "a mistake."
"It sends the wrong signal," Christoph Casetti told SF1 television. "From a medical point of view, I also think it's wrong because we know that condoms don't provide certain protection."
Vatican spokesman said he hadn't heard about the campaign he said the Church was opposed to artificial contraception.
Although the Vatican has no specific policy concerning condoms and AIDS, the Catholic Church opposes their use as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Pope Benedict XVI came out strongly against condom distribution last year, saying that a moral attitude toward sex, with sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, would help fight the spread of HIV.