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  • NEW YORK – Faced with a changing outlook from Pope Benedict  XVI on condoms and their role in preventing the spread of HIV, many prominent conservative Roman Catholics in the U.S. are rejecting the Vatican's own explanation of what the pope said.

    Several orthodox Catholics said they would only accept a more formal papal pronouncement. Others insisted that journalists were purposely misrepresenting Benedict's comments. Some questioned whether the papal spokesman, the Rev. Frederico Lombardi, accurately quoted the pope.

    Bishops and the experts who advise them were scrambling to make sense of the news.

    "It's a mess," said John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, which advises church leaders, hospitals and Vatican offices. "I'm not ready to say that the pope said what Lombardi said."

    The uproar is over comments Benedict made in the new book, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times." In an exchange with the author about AIDS in Africa, Benedict said that for some people, such as male prostitutes, using condoms could be a step in assuming moral responsibility because the intent is to "reduce the risk of infection."

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