- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

12:07 p.m.

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI said today he supports excommunication for politicians who backed Mexico City’s decision to legalize abortion, sending a strong message about core church teachings at the start of his first trip to Latin America as pontiff.

Church teaching calls for automatic excommunication for anyone who has an abortion. In Mexico City, where abortion was legalized during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, church officials have said that doctors and nurses who performed the procedure, as well as lawmakers who supported its legalization, also would be excommunicated.

“It’s nothing new. It’s normal. It wasn’t arbitrary. It is what is foreseen by the church’s doctrine,” Pope Benedict told reporters aboard a plane to Brazil.

Pope Benedict, in his first full-fledged news conference as pope, also said the exodus of Catholics for evangelical Protestant churches in Latin America is “our biggest worry.”

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

“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.

Pope Benedict previously has told Catholic politicians that the Vatican’s stance against abortion is “not negotiable.” However, he hasn’t explicitly said excommunication would be the penalty for any lawmaker who supported it. In fact, the Vatican has sidestepped the issue of whether Communion can be denied to a Catholic politician who has supported abortion rights legislation.

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, visited Mexico and addressed Latin American bishops just three months after assuming the papacy. Pope Benedict has waited two years for his first trip to a region where nearly half the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live.

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