By Hilary White

ROME, April 22, 2009 ( – Italian and some Spanish news media last month carried comments from the head of the Holy See press office saying that Pope Benedict XVI had not “absolutely” condemned “therapeutic” or “indirect” abortion in a speech during his trip to Africa.

In a speech to the president and diplomatic corps of Angola on March 20, Pope Benedict said, “How bitter the irony of those who promote abortion as a form of maternal healthcare! How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health!”

At the time, Italian daily newspapers La Stampa and Il Messagero ran headlines saying that the pope’s comments were intended as support for the archbishop of the diocese of Olinda and Recife, who had announced the excommunication of those who had procured an abortion on a nine year-old girl pregnant with twins.

The next day, however, Fr. Frederico Lombardi SJ, the pope’s official spokesman, denied that the pope had been referring in his speech to the Brazilian situation. He was quoted by Sandro Magister, one of Italy’s most respected Catholic journalists, saying, “The pope absolutely was not talking about therapeutic abortion, and did not say that this must always be rejected.”

Italian media responded by widely reporting that, “The Pope Did Not Condemn Therapeutic Abortion.” The daily newspaper Il Giornale ran the headline, “The Vatican does not condemn abortion for therapeutic purposes.”

Under Corrierra della Serra’s headline, which read, “Vatican, Benedict XVI does not condemn abortion,” the paper reported, “The clarification comes from Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, ‘The Pope has spoken out against ‘reproductive health’ programs, which have spread widely the idea of abortion as a means of birth control.” Lombardi was widely quoted saying, “The Pope did not say who should be denied a therapeutic abortion.” contacted Fr. Lombardi for clarification. LSN asked if Lombardi had meant to say that the pope did not have an absolute moral objection to “therapeutic abortion” or “indirect abortion.” Fr. Lombardi replied, “To avoid further confusion, like that which had occurred a few days earlier on condoms, the next day [after the pope’s speech] I explained that the Pope in his speech had referred to the issue of abortion as a method of birth control in the form of ‘maternal and reproductive health.’”

Asked if he had meant to imply that “therapeutic abortion” could be in some “extreme cases” morally justified or mitigated, Fr. Lombardi explained that the pope had not been speaking of any European legislation as had been implied by some European journalists, but only about the situation in Africa.

Fr. Lombardi said, “The rest is gossip and sources of confusion, since in Luanda [Angola’s capital] there was no intention of addressing the discussions on abortion laws in Europe, nor the debate on the Brazilian girl, etc.”

These issues, he said, “were totally unrelated to the trip to Africa, even if some European journalists naturally wanted to continue talking about them.”

Pro-life advocates in Italy have said that the confusion Fr. Lombardi was attempting to avoid has ultimately been exacerbated by his attempt at clarification, particularly in his unclear use of the euphemistic term “therapeutic abortion.” This term has been identified by pro-life advocates as a pseudo-medical neologism that is employed by the abortion movement as a propaganda tool.

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, head of the Rome office of Human Life International, said that Fr. Lombardi’s use of the term has created confusion and led Italian media to claim that the pope does not condemn abortion in every case.

Msgr. Barreiro told that the use of the term by such a highly placed Vatican official has given the impression to an already misinformed and confused public that some forms of direct abortion can be morally justified.

However, in saying that the pope had not “absolutely” condemned “therapeutic abortion,” Msgr. Barreiro observed, it is not credible to imply, as Italian media has done, that Fr. Lombardi had meant that direct abortion could be morally justified or that the pope had meant this.

But, Monsignor Barreiro said, Fr. Lombardi’s use of the term “therapeutic” or “indirect” abortion, which may have been an unintentional mistake, was a critical error. “Language is terribly important.”

“There is no such thing as ‘therapeutic abortion’,” he said.

“It is possible,” he added, “that in some extreme medical cases such as the removal of a cancerous tumour that directly threatens the life of a pregnant woman, and where the removal would have the unintended and unwilled effect of causing the death of the unborn child, this could be morally justified.”

“This may have been what Fr. Lombardi was incorrectly referring to as ‘indirect’ abortion.”

“But,” Msgr. Barreiro emphasised, “this is not an abortion at all because it is not an action that has the intention of killing a child.”

“Direct abortion,” he said, “whether the abortion lobby wants to call it ‘therapeutic’ is the direct killing of an innocent human being, which can never be justified.”

Monsignor referred to the landmark encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which Pope John Paul II wrote, “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”


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