- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Benedict XVI denounced Mexico City politicians yesterday for voting to legalize abortion, saying they should no longer receive Communion.

Flying to Latin America, Benedict was asked about comments by Mexico City church officials that the lawmakers would be excommunicated for having voted last month for the legislation legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“It’s nothing new, it’s normal, it wasn’t arbitrary. It is what is foreseen by the church’s doctrine,” Benedict told reporters aboard a plane to Brazil in his first full-fledged press conference since becoming pontiff in 2005.

Reporters flying with the pope took his remarks to mean that he endorsed the comments by Mexican churchmen that the lawmakers should be excommunicated.

But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, later issued a statement approved by the pope clarifying the remarks. The statement said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. Politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, Father Lombardi said.

“Since excommunication hasn’t been declared by the Mexican bishops, the pope has no intention himself of declaring it,” said Father Lombardi, who was aboard the plane. “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. … Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.”

Pressed further by journalists whether the lawmakers were excommunicated, Father Lombardi reiterated: “No, they exclude themselves from Communion.”

Church officials said the pope may have spoken about excommunication thinking that the Mexico City bishops had already issued formal declaration of excommunication for the legislators, which they have not.

Excommunication is the severest penalty the Roman Catholic Church can impose on its members. When someone is excommunicated, “his status before the church is that of a stranger,” the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says.

In practical terms, that means the excommunicated person is forbidden from receiving the sacraments and participating in public worship.

Church teaching calls for automatic excommunication for anyone who has an abortion.

In Mexico City, church officials have said that doctors and nurses who perform the procedure, as well as lawmakers who supported its legalization, would be excommunicated.

The Mexican politicians who supported the measure shrugged off Benedict’s comments yesterday.

“I’m Catholic and I’m going to continue being Catholic even if the church excommunicates me,” said leftist Mexico City lawmaker Leticia Quezada. “My conscience is clean.”

In the press conference, Benedict also said the exodus of Catholics for evangelical Protestant churches in Latin America was “our biggest worry.”

But he said the spread of Protestantism shows a “thirst for God” in the region, and that he intends to lay down a strategy to answer that call when he meets with bishops from Latin America in a once-a-decade meeting in the shrine city of Aparecida near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“We have to become more dynamic,” he said. Evangelical churches, which the Vatican considers “sects,” have attracted millions of Latin American Catholics in recent years.

The pope later landed in Sao Paulo.

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