Welcoming the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI outlined wide areas of potential cooperation with the administration of President Barack Obama, but drew a sharp line on the issues of abortion and the rights of conscience.
The pope called for “a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens.”
He made the remarks at a ceremony Oct. 2 to accept the credentials of Miguel Diaz, named in May by Obama as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. After the encounter at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, Diaz held talks at the Vatican with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The pope’s comments on the right to life touched on a current debate in the United States over provisions of health care reform and how they would affect abortion policies.
Leading U.S. bishops have insisted that any final health reform bill exclude mandated coverage of abortion and protect conscience rights. Obama has said that under his plan “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place,” but the bishops say none of the proposals under congressional consideration have met that challenge.
The pope smiled and greeted Diaz warmly at the papal villa, chatting with the ambassador before greeting members of the U.S. embassy staff and Diaz’s family. Diaz also prepared a speech, but the pope and the ambassador handed each other their texts instead of reading them.
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