- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

VATICAN CITY (AP) | Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, that Catholic politicians have a duty to protect life “at all stages of its development.”

Mrs. Pelosi, a Catholic who is pro-choice, is the first top Democrat to meet with Benedict since the election of Barack Obama, who won a majority of the American Catholic vote despite differences with the church on abortion.

The Vatican released the pope’s remarks to Mrs. Pelosi, saying Benedict spoke of the church’s teaching “on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” the formulation the pope often uses to express opposition to abortion.

Benedict said all Catholics - especially legislators, judges and political leaders - should work to create “a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

In an e-mail issued by her office, Mrs. Pelosi did not mention the allusion to abortion.

She said it was with “great joy” that she and her husband, Paul, met with Benedict.

“In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel,” she said.

The 15-minute meeting was closed to reporters and photographers. It was held in a small room off a Vatican auditorium after the pope’s weekly public audience.

The Vatican said it was not issuing a photo of the meeting - as it usually does when the pope meets world leaders - saying the encounter was private. The statement said the pope “briefly greeted” Mrs. Pelosi and did not mention any other specific subject they may have discussed.

A number of bishops in the United States have questioned Mrs. Pelosi’s stance on abortion rights, particularly a Sunday talk show interview when Mrs. Pelosi cited disputes among pre-modern theologians about when ensoulment occurred during pregnancy. Several bishops said that while such disputes occurred, no authority on either side of them ever doubted that abortion was a grave offense against life or denied the church’s proclamations against abortion, which date back to the second century.

Benedict has cautiously welcomed Mr. Obama’s new Democratic administration, although several American cardinals have sharply criticized its support for abortion rights.

Mrs. Pelosi also has met with Italian political leaders in the past few days, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

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