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Nobel committee member criticises Pope over AIDS

A member of the secretive Nobel Peace Prize committee lashed out at Pope John Paul's opposition to using condoms to fight AIDS on Tuesday, possibly suggesting that the Holy Father has little chance of winning the award.

Selection committee member Gunnar Staalseth, bishop of Oslo in Norway's Lutheran state church, said religious leaders should accept condoms as a way to combat a killer disease that has infected an estimated 36 million people worldwide.

"I challenge the Vatican to redefine its attitude to condoms," he told reporters after meeting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is on a 2-day visit to Oslo. "The current Roman Catholic theology is one that favours death rather than life," Staalseth said.

"Religious leaders must be outspoken," he continued. "Condom use should be tolerated as a way to stop the spread of AIDS."

The pope is often rumoured to be among favourites to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for, among other things, his contribution to the collapse of communism a decade ago. Staalseth said that the Catholic church might find that its opposition to condom use to prevent AIDS could come back to haunt it in future decades as the toll from the pandemic rises.

Nobel Prize Committee