Pope stirs abortion controversy on way to Brazil
May 9, 2007 - 8:53:58 PM

Rome/Sao Paulo, May 9 - Pope Benedict XVI sparked a controversy aboard the plane taking him to Brazil on Wednesday by appearing to back automatic excommunication for politicians who legalize abortion.

Journalists travelling with him to Sao Paulo asked the pontiff what he made of comments made by bishops in Mexico, who recently warned local politicians promoting a new abortion bill that they will be automatically excommunicated.

According to Italy's Ansa news agency, the pope said the bishops' position was neither new nor 'arbitrary' as 'the killing of a child is incompatible with feeding oneself of Christ's body'.

However, his spokesman, Federico Lombardi, later told journalists: 'The pope had never intended to excommunicate anyone.'

'Politicians who promote pro-abortion bills exclude themselves from taking part in the Eucharist but they are not excommunicated,' Ansa quoted Lombardi as saying.

According to Canon Law, people who procure or act as an accomplice to abortion are placed outside the Church - 'latae sententiae' - and can no longer receive the sacraments.

The pope's comments were expected to inflame pro-choice activists, who have been demonstrating in Brasilia ahead of Benedict's arrival.

Asked about his first trip to Latin America, Benedict expressed concern at the growing number of Catholics who were joining Protestant evangelical groups, but said their popularity nevertheless showed there was 'a thirst for God'.

'The General Assembly of Bishops wants to find convincing answers -,' Benedict was quoted as saying.

The head of the Catholic Church is making his fifth trip abroad since his April 2005 election. In previous trips outside Italy, Benedict visited his native Germany, Poland, Spain and Turkey.

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