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Vatican Questions Iraq War, Denounces Abortion

A Vatican handbook made public Monday questioned preventive war and denounced the "horrendous crime" of abortion, but Vatican (search) officials denied they were trying to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Officials also sidestepped questions on whether the war in Iraq was illegal and whether Roman Catholics can vote for politicians who back laws permitting abortion (search).

The questions came at a news conference where Vatican officials presented a 524-page compendium of the Catholic Church's doctrine on social issues including war and peace, the death penalty, globalization, the free market and workers' rights.

The compilation, drawing from decades of teachings by Pope John Paul II (search) and earlier pontiffs, appeared to break no new ground. Officials described the volume as a kind of handbook, which could be useful for business leaders, politicians and other agenda-setting figures.

"Engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions," the compendium said under the heading "legitimate defense."

"International legitimacy for the use of armed forces, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved for a state," the compendium's entry said in apparent reference to the United Nations.

Cardinal Renato Martino, a former Vatican envoy to the United Nations, was asked whether "in hindsight" the U.S.-led war against Iraq would be "illegal" in the eyes of the church.

"Did you read the address of the pope to President Bush? Read it again," he replied.

Martino was referring to John Paul's speech to Bush when the American leader met with the pontiff at the Vatican in June. In his address, John Paul expressed "grave concern" over events in Iraq and his desire for achievement of "normalization as quickly as possible."

Martino, who now oversees the Vatican council dealing with justice and peace, denied that the timing of the release of the compendium, six years in the making, was linked to the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Some U.S. Catholic bishops have criticized Democratic candidate John Kerry's defense of legalized abortion and advocacy of expanded embryonic cell stem research. The Massachusetts senator is a Catholic.

The compendium called abortion a "horrendous crime" and said it represented "a dangerous threat to a just and democratic social existence."

When a reporter asked if Catholics could vote for a politician supporting legalized abortion, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the "Holy See never gets involved in electoral or political matters directly."

Navarro-Valls indicated it would be up to local bishops in each country if they felt the need to "illuminate the consciences of faithful with ethical elements so they can make a judgment" about candidates.

The compendium said terrorism "sows hatred, death and an urge for revenge and reprisal" and must be condemned "in the most absolute terms.'"

But, it said, "the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and the principles of a state ruled by law" — possible criticism of the treatment of prisoners held by the United States at its Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, Naval base as well as in Abu Ghraib prison (search) in Iraq.

Martino told Vatican Radio on Sunday that Catholics must speak out on major issues, and he dismissed accusations the Catholic Church interferes in social issues.

"The Church cannot not make its voice heard, which wants to be that of Jesus, when what is being decided is the dignity of the human person, his fundamental rights, the proper rules of economic and social life ... above all when on the line is the great good of peace," Martino said.

"The Church, which is accused of interfering, is really the one which defends the secular nature of the state, urging all to render to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's."