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Rights group’s abortion stance ruffles Vatican

Cardinal Renato Raffaelle Martino visits the culture palace in Abidjan
Cardinal Renato Martino discouraged followers from donating money to Amnesty International, which recently changed its neutral stance on abortion to supporting it in cases of rape or when a mother's health is at risk.Luc Gnago / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Vatican cardinal said Wednesday that Roman Catholics should stop donating money to Amnesty International following its adoption of a new policy calling for women to have access to abortion services.

The human rights organization reversed its longtime neutral stance on abortion in April and adopted a policy urging governments to ensure access to abortion services for women in the case of rape, incest or when pregnancy represents a risk to the mother's life or a grave risk to her health.

Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican's justice and peace department, criticized the policy, saying it represented a betrayal of Amnesty's goals of ensuring human rights around the world.

"The inevitable consequence of this decision, according to the cardinal, will be the suspension of any financing to Amnesty on the part of Catholic organizations and also individual Catholics," according to a statement from Martino's office.

In a statement, Amnesty said it had never received any financing from the Vatican or from official Roman Catholic organizations.

Spokesman Riccardo Nourey acknowledged that the group may well have received financing from "Catholic-inspired" groups as well as individuals, but not from organizations that are an official extension of the Catholic Church.

Amnesty's statutes say specifically that the London-based organization is independent of any government, political party, church, religious confession or other group.

Stance part of campaign for women's safety
In the statement, Amnesty explained that its new abortion policy came about as part of its global Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

The group, winner of the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize, said it recognized that women and girls were victims of gender-based violence and bear the consequences of "the abuse of their sexual and reproductive rights."

Amnesty says it is not taking a position on whether abortion is right or wrong, and will not campaign generally for abortion rights. But it says it decided to make the policy so it could address abortion as it relates to its core work of ensuring the right to health for women and fighting violence against women.

Martino, who was the Vatican's U.N. envoy for 16 years, often makes headlines with his pronouncements on issues of the day. He has expressed support for genetically modified foods, saying they could help feed the world's hungry, and he has backed scientists who question the seriousness of climate change.

The statement from Martino's office was carried by the official Vatican Radio. However, the statement on the Vatican Radio Web site omitted a key phrase from the original in which Martino says even individual Catholics should withhold financing for Amnesty.

A Martino spokesman said he did not know why Vatican Radio had omitted the section, but insisted that the cardinal fully meant that individual Catholics should suspend donations to the group.

Martino's office issued the statement to expand on the cardinal's comments that appeared in an interview with the National Catholic Register, a conservative U.S. Catholic weekly.