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Debate over condoms hindering AIDS programs, cardinal says

VATICAN CITY -- The cardinal chosen by Pope John Paul II to head a new Vatican foundation to help AIDS victims said yesterday that too much time was spent arguing over the Catholic Church's opposition to condoms while too many people were dying.

"I don't care about the condoms-yes, condoms-no, debate," Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, told a news conference. "What concerns me is that these people are dying and I have to help them."

The Vatican said the new foundation, called Good Samaritan, would take donations from individuals, groups, and governments and channel them to Catholic charities and other organizations helping AIDS victims, particularly in Africa.

The pope has donated $133,900 of his private funds earmarked for charities to help start up the foundation, which will be based at the Vatican.

Barragan said the church's opposition to condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS should not deter potential contributors.

"It's one thing to talk about moral problems. That's legitimate and we as Catholics have our position on this," he said. "It's another thing to help those who are suffering. While people are arguing about whether or not condoms can be used, every day 12,000 people die of AIDS."

According to the United Nations, the number of people living with HIV has increased from 35 million in 2001 to 39.4 million in 2004, the highest level ever.

Barragan, a Mexican, said the Vatican did not want to compete with any other groups already helping AIDS victims.

"We are offering our cooperation to help those with AIDS. We don't want to compete with anyone, we don't want to duplicate efforts, we don't want any conflict. We just want to give help where it is needed," he said.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.

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