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POPE-NICARAGUA Sep-25-2007 (450 words) xxxi

Pope praises Nicaragua's recent ban on therapeutic abortions

By Catholic News Service

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI praised Nicaragua's recent ban on abortion, saying the country had taken a pro-life stand against strong international pressures.

At the same time, the pope said the move calls for increased assistance to women with problems during pregnancy.

He made the comments in a speech to the new ambassador from Nicaragua, Jose Cuadra Chamorro, who presented his credentials Sept. 24 in a ceremony at the papal summer villa outside Rome.

The pope said he wanted to express his appreciation to Nicaragua for its position on social issues, "especially respect for life, in the face of considerable internal and international pressure."

"It should be considered very positive that last year the National Assembly approved the revocation of therapeutic abortion," he said.

"In this regard, it is essential to increase the assistance of the state and of society itself to women who have serious problems during pregnancy," he said.

In late 2006, the Nicaraguan legislature abolished existing legal exceptions for therapeutic abortions -- those carried out when the health of the mother was at risk or in the case of fetal malformation. In practice, church officials said, the therapeutic exception also was being used when pregnancy resulted from rape and in many other cases.

The new law introduced penalties, including possible jail terms, for those performing abortions and for women who underwent them.

Organizations supporting legal abortion, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, have protested the Nicaraguan law and asked the country's Supreme Court to overturn it.

In his speech to the new ambassador, the pope spoke about "the urgent necessity to retrieve and promote human and moral values in the face of so many forms of violence."

Such violence sometimes occurs in the home and is often the result of the "disintegration of families and the degradation of social traditions," he said.

He said the church was working hard to respond to the threats to moral values, and he encouraged the government to design its own programs to do the same.

The pope referred to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's "Zero Hunger" campaign, intended to help the country's poor. The pope said the success of this and other social initiatives will depend in large part on "transparency and honesty in public affairs which, in the face of any form of corruption, favor the authorities' credibility in the eyes of citizens."

The pope also called upon international organizations to be generous in assisting Nicaragua as it recovers from Hurricane Felix. The storm struck the country in early September, leaving more than 130 people dead and thousands homeless.


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