SAO PAULO, Brazil - Pope Benedict XVI caused such a stir with his comments on the excommunication of lawmakers who vote in favor of legalizing abortion that the Vatican released a transcript yesterday changing what he said.
While Benedict met with Brazil's president and thousands of Roman Catholics streamed toward a soccer stadium for an evening youth rally, the Vatican released a new transcript that seemed to roll back the pope's comments from a day earlier.
Asked during an in-flight news conference Wednesday if legislators who legalized abortion in Mexico City should rightfully be considered excommunicated, Benedict said: "Yes."
"The excommunication was not something arbitrary. It is part of the [canon law] code," the pope continued, seemingly siding with the Mexican bishops who said the politicians had excommunicated themselves.
A dropped 'yes'
Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement later Wednesday saying Benedict did not intend to formally excommunicate anyone - a rare process under church law. He added that politicians who vote in favor of abortion had excluded themselves from receiving Holy Communion.
Yesterday, the Vatican tried again to defuse the controversy, issuing a slightly edited transcript that dropped the word yes in the pope's response to the question that started it all.
Several other changes made it seem a more general statement, rather than referring to the Mexican bishops.
Lombardi told reporters such edits were common. "Every time the pope speaks off-the-cuff, the Secretariat of State reviews and cleans up his remarks," he said.
Benedict's comments stoked debate among Catholics who have been arguing whether politicians who approve abortion legislation as well as doctors and nurses who take part in the procedure subject themselves to automatic excommunication under church law.
Some of the Mexican legislators involved said they still considered themselves to be Catholic - no matter what the pope says.
And in the United States, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani - a Catholic who favors abortion rights - avoided saying whether the pope's statement changed his relationship with the church. "I do not get into debates with the pope," Giuliani said. "That is not a good idea."