- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion in his first speech in Brazil but avoided further suggestion that politicians who support abortion rights should be considered excommunicated.

Benedict is on his first papal trip to Latin America, where women’s rights groups have been pushing to expand access to abortion. With few exceptions, the procedure is illegal in Brazil and most other countries in the region, home to more than half the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

The pope, who will inaugurate an important regional bishops conference during his trip, was met at Sao Paulo airport yesterday by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Speaking in Portuguese, Benedict said he’s certain that the bishops will reinforce “the promotion of respect for life from the moment of conception until natural death as an integral requirement of human nature.”

Benedict’s comments came just hours after one of the president’s Cabinet members said a “macho” culture in Brazil has prevented a legitimate debate about legalizing abortion in Latin America’s largest nation.

“If men got pregnant, I’m sure this question would have been resolved a long time ago,” said Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao, who is pushing for a referendum on the issue.

Like most Brazilians, Mr. Lula da Silva says he’s opposed to abortion, but in an interview aired on Catholic radio stations earlier in the week, he said abortion was an issue for his government because of the many illegal — and often fatal — abortions performed in clandestine clinics in Brazil.

Mr. Lula da Silva has an audience with the pope today, but his spokesman said the president did not intend to bring up abortion.

Even before Benedict got off his plane in Brazil, he stoked a debate among Catholics who have been arguing whether politicians who approve abortion legislation as well as doctors and nurses who take part in the procedure subject themselves to automatic excommunication under church doctrine.

During the flight from Rome, Benedict gave his first full-fledged press conference since becoming pontiff in 2005. When a reporter pressed him on whether he agreed that Catholic politicians who recently legalized abortion in Mexico City should rightfully be considered excommunicated, his response was “Yes.”

Church law says anyone who procures a completed abortion is automatically excommunicated, but considering political support for abortion as equivalent to procurement would set new Vatican policy.

Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, later said the pope was not setting a new policy and did not intend to formally excommunicate anyone — a rare process under church law separate from the doctrine of self-excommunication.

However, the spokesman added that politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.

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