Words Not to Use Lightly When You Are Pope

May 9, 2007

One of those words has to be “excommunication.”

Pope Benedict XVI touched down in the world’s biggest Roman Catholic country yesterday hoping to help reverse a 20-year exodus to Brazil’s reborn evangelical churches, but immediately created controversy when he appeared to suggest that legislators who support laws allowing abortions should be excommunicated.

During a press conference on his flight to Sao Paulo, the Pope for the first time dealt in depth with a topic that has come up in many countries, including the United States, Mexico, and Italy.

He was asked whether he supported Mexican church leaders threatening to excommunicate leftist parliamentarians who last month voted to legalise 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.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later tried to downplay the comments, saying the Pope was not himself ordering excommunications.

The denial of communication to politicians who support abortion rights is, of course, a familiar issue in the United States, with the John Kerry situation in 2004. Will this issue affect Rudy Giuliani this time around?