by Steven Ertelt
May 12, 2006
The Vatican (LifeNews.com) — Pope Benedict XVI told Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in a meeting at the Vatican on Thursday that he doesn’t want him to weaken the abortion ban the South American nation currently has in place. The meeting came on the same day that news broke about a court’s decision in Colombia to allow abortions in certain rare cases.
The Catholic Church has been one of the most vocal critics of the left-wing president, who has previously called the church leadership a "tumor."
The pontiff asked Chavez to make sure that public health programs respect life, according to a statement released by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He told the president that "healthcare programs remain focused on the protection of life since the beginning."
Navarro-Valls said Chavez pledged his commitment "to overcome every tension in respecting the legitimate rights of all."
The pope summarized his concerns in a letter he gave Chavez along with a copy of his first encyclical, which urges pro-life views on abortion and bioethics issues such as euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.
Last year, some pro-Chavez lawmakers put forward an initiative that would weaken the ban on abortions and allow them in cases of rape and incest. The measure did not advance, but Catholic officials are worried that pro-abortion legislators will try again.
Chavez and the Pope met privately for about 35 minutes on Thursday and Benedict made the comments about abortion during the meeting.
In a news conference after the meeting, Chavez said it was "very positive" and called it "the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and the Venezuelan Government."
Chavez professes to be a "Catholic Christian" in a nation where 96 percent of the population is Catholic, but frequently criticizes the church. He faces a re-election bid in December.