Respected medical journal The Lancet has criticised Pope Benedict XVI over his recent comments on condoms and AIDS and demanded he make a retraction.

On a recent visit to Africa, the pontiff claimed the use of condoms “aggravates” the spread of the disease.

In an editorial, the journal said: “By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue.

“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear.

“But the comment still stands, and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.”

It added: “When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.

“Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

The Pope has previously encouraged sexual abstinence as a way of combating the disease.

After being elected, he said the “traditional teaching of the Church” on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be “the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS”.