GENEVA - CATHOLIC churches in the central Swiss city of Lucerne have sparked controversy among believers with an Aids awareness campaign that involves giving teenagers condoms bearing the slogan 'protect thy neighbour as thyself.'

The churches started handing out some of the 3,000 condoms on Monday as part of an effort to engage young people, many of whom may be turned off by the Vatican's long-standing opposition to the use of condoms, said a spokesman.

'We needed something to appeal to people who wouldn't dream of talking to the church about that kind of issue,' Florian Flohr told The Associated Press.

The campaign is targeted at teenagers as young as 14 and includes talks to school classes about the devastating effect that Aids is having in Africa, he said. 'It's not about promoting promiscuous activity at all. We're using the condoms to prompt people to think about HIV and Aids.' Mr Flohr said the campaign so far has drawn mostly positive reactions, but some Catholics have expressed concern.

Officials at the diocese of Basel, of which Lucerne is a part, didn't respond to requests for comment on Monday, but a spokesman in the neighbouring diocese of Chur was quoted by Swiss television as describing the condom campaign as 'a mistake.'

'It sends the wrong signal,' Christoph Casetti told SF1 television. 'From a medical point of view, I also think it's wrong because we know that condoms dont't provide certain protection.' Asked on Monday about the Lucerne campaign, a Vatican spokesman said he hadn't heard about it but recalled the church's position opposing artificial contraception and said the use of condoms doesn't correspond to it.

Condom campaign draws flak