The Holy See is struggling to contain international anger over the Pope's claim on his first official visit to Africa that Aids "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".
The Pope's remarks about condoms, and a recent furore over his lifting of the 20-year excommunication of a British bishop who has questioned the Holocaust, has left him looking isolated and out of touch, prompting calls for a radical shake-up of the way the Holy See delivers its message.
The Pope is isolated and fails to adequately consult his advisers, said a Vatican source with 20 years' knowledge of the Holy See.
Another Vatican insider described Pope Benedict's four-year-old papacy as "a disaster", recalling the pontiff's previous inflammatory remarks on Islam and homosexuality.
"He's out of touch with the real world," the Italian insider said. "On the condom issue, for example, there are priests and bishops in Africa who accept that condoms are a key part of the fight against Aids, and yet the pope adheres to this very conservative line that they encourage promiscuity. The Vatican is far removed from the reality on the ground."
The Vatican's traditional culture of secrecy has made it ill-equipped to communicate its message in the internet age.
The Holy See claimed that the Pope had no idea that British bishop Richard Williamson had denied the extent of the Holocaust, but critics have pointed out that a simple Google search would have uncovered the maverick's anti-Semitic views.
"Until recently the Vatican was secretive and their way of controlling the message of the Church was to release information slowly and highly selectively through carefully worded documents," said Francis X Rocca, Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service.
"The problem now is that the internet and the blogosphere won't wait for the Vatican, so its message gets swamped."
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