- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Pope Benedict XVI caused such a stir with his comments on the excommunication of lawmakers who vote in favor of legalizing abortion that the Vatican released a transcript yesterday changing what he said.

While Benedict met with Brazil’s president and thousands of Roman Catholics streamed toward a soccer stadium for an evening youth rally, the Vatican released a new transcript that seemed to roll back the pope’s comments from a day earlier.

Asked during an in-flight press conference Wednesday whether legislators who legalized abortion in Mexico City should rightfully be considered excommunicated, Benedict said, “Yes.”

“The excommunication was not something arbitrary. It is part of the [canon law] code,” the pope continued, seemingly siding with the Mexican bishops who said the politicians had excommunicated themselves.

But Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement later Wednesday saying Benedict did not intend to formally excommunicate anyone — a rare process under church law. He added that politicians who vote in favor of abortion had excluded themselves from receiving Holy Communion.

Yesterday, the Vatican tried again to defuse the situation, issuing a slightly edited transcript that dropped the word “yes” in the pope’s response to the question that started it all. Several other changes made it seem a more general statement, rather than referring to the Mexican bishops.

Father Lombardi told reporters such edits are common. “Every time the pope speaks off-the-cuff the secretariat of state reviews and cleans up his remarks,” he said.

Benedict is determined to prevent legal abortions from expanding in Latin America. In his first speech in Brazil, he expressed confidence that Latin America’s Catholic leaders will take a strong anti-abortion stand at their bishops’ conference next week, reinforcing “respect for life from the moment of conception until natural death as an integral requirement of human nature.”

About 41,000 people were invited to yesterday’s stadium rally, and at least 100,000 more were expected outside. Many of these Catholics share the pope’s views — polls show that Brazilians are overwhelmingly against expanding access to abortion beyond current law, which allows it in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Abortion did not come up in Benedict’s meeting yesterday with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Father Lombardi said. But one of the president’s Cabinet members complained beforehand that 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.

While Mr. Lula da Silva said he is personally opposed to abortion, he said it’s an issue for his government because many Brazilian women die from illegal abortions, highlighting the divide among those torn between the church’s traditional teachings and the pressures of the modern world.

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