VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, underscoring the Vatican's ruling on an issue that divides Americans, told U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday that Catholic politicians and legislators cannot back abortion rights.
Pelosi, a powerful U.S. politician who is Catholic and pro-choice, has been accused by U.S. bishops in the past of misrepresenting Church teachings on abortion.
"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural and moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death ..." a Vatican statement said.
It said such teaching "enjoins all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men of goodwill in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development," it said.
She met the pope briefly at the mid-point of her visit to Italy, which is where her family is originally from.
Pelosi later issued a statement but did not refer to the abortion issue, saying she had a chance to "praise the Church's leadership, in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming."
During the presidential campaign, American bishops accused Pelosi as well as then-Senator Joe Biden, now vice-president, of misrepresenting Church teaching on abortion. Biden is also Catholic. Both have said abortion is a personal decision.
A month before the election, Archbishop Raymond Burke, a senior American in the Vatican, said the Democratic Party risked "transforming itself definitively into a 'party of death'" because of its choices on bioethical questions and abortion.
Conservative Catholics hailed him but others accused the Vatican of trying to interfere in the election.
STORM OF CRITICISM
Pelosi met a storm of criticism from conservative Catholics in August when she told a talk show that the question of exactly when life begins "shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."
She said when life began was still "an issue of controversy" in the Church and that "God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions."
The Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and ends at the moment of natural death.
In the past, both Pope Benedict and his predecessors have said that Catholic politicians cannot personally oppose abortion but publicly back abortion rights in the name of pluralism and democracy.
The Vatican says Catholic politicians should not let themselves be swayed by opinion polls and social trends.
The issue has deeply divided the Church in the United States as well as other industrialized countries, including Italy, where some Conservatives have called for Catholic politicians who back abortion rights to be excommunicated and barred from receiving communion.
Several days after his inauguration, President Barack Obama, with Pelosi's support, reversed a Bush administration ban on funding for groups abroad that provide abortion services.
Vatican officials criticized that change.
Pope tells Pelosi: Catholics cannot back abortion | International | Reuters