Rome - The Catholic church in Italy lashed out on Monday at what it called a "mockery" of Pope Benedict XVI for rejecting condoms as a weapon against Aids, comments that he made while on a visit to Africa.
"We will not accept the Pope being made the object of mockery and offence, in the media or elsewhere," said Angelo Bagnasco, the country's top bishop, citing the "controversy about condoms".
"He represents for everyone a moral authority, which this journey has made people appreciate even more," Bagnasco said.
The bishop complained of "heavy criticism of our beloved Pope, which goes on longer than it should".
Benedict landed back in Italy on Monday after ending his first tour of the Aids-ravaged continent, during which he made repeated calls for African leaders to battle corruption, fight poverty and quell conflicts.
But he struggled to get across his message for better governance because of the uproar that erupted before he even landed in Cameroon, after he told reporters on his plane that condom use could be aggravating the Aids crisis.
The comments drew fire from activists, charities, and some governments, including France and the Netherlands, who warned that the pope's stance undermined the fight to prevent HIV infection.Bagnasco criticised the African media's focus on the controversy, as well as "the insistence, full of prejudice, by international agencies and the declarations of certain European politicians"