A report from B16's customary in-flight news conference has been filed by the wires -- the Pope registered his support of the local proposal to declare excommunications for the Mexico City politicians who voted in support of the recent decriminalization of first-trimester abortions there:
"It's nothing new, it's normal," Benedict said during an airborne news conference aboard the plane carrying him to Brazil en route to his first pilgrimage to Latin America.All told, B16 and entourage will be in the air for 12 hours, with arrival in São Paulo scheduled for 16.45 local time (1945 GMT; 5.45pm Eastern).
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi later told reporters that the politicians who voted for abortion had automatically excommunicated themselves by their actions.
Mexican church officials have said that doctors and nurses who performed abortions as well as lawmakers who supported the legalization would be excommunicated. Church teaching also says any woman who get an abortion faces automatic excommunication, meaning the Vatican doesn't have to issue a formal excommunication order.
Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, whose leftist Democratic Revolution Party backed the bill approved by city lawmakers last month, has said he would not be deterred by the church's statements.
SVILUPPO: More on the Pope's comments -- dateline "Aboard the Papal Plane":
The Pope was asked whether he supported Mexican Church leaders threatening to excommunicate leftist parliamentarians who last month voted to legalize abortion in Mexico City.
"Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon (church) law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ," he said.
"They (Mexican Church leaders) did nothing new, surprising or arbitrary. They simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the Church... which expresses our appreciation for life and that human individuality, human personality is present from the first moment (of life)."
Under Church law, someone who knowingly does or backs something which the Church considers a grave sin, such as abortion, inflicts what is known as "automatic excommunication" on themselves.
The Pope said parliamentarians who vote in favor of abortion have "doubts about the value of life and the beauty of life and even a doubt about the future."
"Selfishness and fear are at the root of (pro-abortion) legislation," he said. "We in the Church have a great struggle to defend life...life is a gift not a threat."
The Pope's comments appear to raise the stakes in the debate over whether Catholic politicians can support abortion or gay marriage and still consider themselves proper Catholics.
In recent months, the Vatican has been accused of interference in Italy for telling Catholic lawmakers to oppose a draft law that would grant some rights to unwed and gay couples.
During the 2004 presidential election, the U.S. Catholic community was split over whether to support Democratic candidate John Kerry, himself a Catholic who backed abortion rights.
Some Catholics say they personally would not have an abortion but feel obliged to support a woman's right to choose.
But the Church, which teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and that abortion is murder, says Catholics cannot have it both ways.
"The Church says life is beautiful, it is not something to doubt but it is a gift even when it is lived in difficult circumstances. It is always a gift," the Pope said.
PHOTO: AP/Plinio Lepri