Benedict XVI on politicians and abortion

Benedict XVI arrived in Brazil on Wednesday, starting his first papal trip to Latin America with strong words against abortion, and roiling a Catholic continent increasingly divided by the issue.

On the plane from Rome, Benedict appeared to go further than the Vatican had before on the contentious issue of Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights. He seemed to suggest that Mexico City legislators who recently voted to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy had excommunicated themselves.

“Yes, the excommunication isn’t something arbitrary — it’s part of the code” of church law, the pope said in Italian, in response to a question during the first full-fledged news conference of his two-year pontificate. “The killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going into communion in the body of Christ.”

The pope’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, quickly issued a clarification that played down his words, but then issued a statement approved by the pope that seemed to confirm a new gravity on politicians who allow abortion.

“Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist,” the statement said, and politicians who vote that way should “exclude themselves from communion.”

The deeply divisive issue has surfaced in Italy, Spain, Britain and the United States, where in the 2004 presidential election, several bishops said that Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Catholic, who supports abortion rights, should not receive communion.

According to church law, those who play a material role in an abortion should not receive the sacrament of holy communion. In effect, they have automatically excommunicated themselves from sharing in communion. (Much rarer, and more complicated, is an active declaration by the church of excommunication.) –New York Times, May 10, 2007