Pope Benedict XVI returns to Vatican to praise and protests

Rome, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI returned to Rome from his six day trip to Africa today to be greeted by support from Italian bishops for his controversial stand on condoms and protests from gay rights and left wing campaigners.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops Conference said the attacks on the Pope during his African trip had been "offensive and unacceptable". The papal trip was overshadowed from the start by the Pope's remarks on the plane to Cameroon, the first leg of the trip, in which he said that condoms were not only the wrong answer to the Aids epidemic but made matters worse by encouraging sexual promiscuity.

Cardinal Bagnasco, who is Archbishop of Genoa, said that even before the African trip attacks on the Pope over his reinstatement of Richard Williamson, a Holocaust-denying bishop, had gone "beyond common sense". He said the Pope had made it clear that he condemned the Nazi Holocaust unequivocally and that he had been unaware of Bishop Williamson's extreme views.

He said that while in Cameroon and then Angola the Pope had been insulted and "vulgarly mocked" in the media around the world for "simply pointing out" that condoms had not solved and could not solve the Aids problem. About an hour before the Pope returned to the Vatican gay rights and atheist groups held a brief protest nearby.

They were not allowed to enter St Peter's Square, which is not only Vatican territory but consecrated ground, since it is an extension of St Peter's Basilica. Instead they held up banners on Italian territory on the boulevard leading up to St Peters.

A spokesman for the Mario Mieli gay rights organisation in Rome said: "The Pope's extremely serious and irresponsible words are even further removed from reality when we consider that condoms are unanimously and scientifically recognised as the principal means of Aids prevention."

The protesters held up banners reading: "Condoms aggravate the problem? Only for Pope Benedict". Whereas Cardinal Bagnasco's remarks were prominently reported however the pro-condoms protest was largely ignored by local media.