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Vatican backs abortion row bishop

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (file image from 2000)
Cardinal Re said the attack on Brazil's Catholic Church was unjustified

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication in Brazil of the mother and doctors of a young girl who had an abortion with their help.

The nine-year-old had conceived twins after alleged abuse by her stepfather.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told Italian paper La Stampa that the twins "had the right to live" and attacks on Brazil's Catholic Church were unfair.

It comes a day after Brazil's president criticised the Brazilian archbishop who excommunicated the people involved.

Brazil only permits abortions in cases of rape or health risks to the mother.

Doctors said the girl's case met both these conditions, but the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said the law of God was above any human law.

He said the excommunication would apply to the child's mother and the doctors, but not to the girl because of her age.

'Sad case'

Cardinal Re, who heads the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told La Stampa that the archbishop had been right to excommunicate the mother and doctors.

Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian Church is unjustified
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
"It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

"Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian Church is unjustified."

The abortion was carried out on Wednesday.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself a Catholic, said on Friday that he regretted what he described as the cleric's deeply conservative attitude.

"The doctors did what had to be done: save the life of a girl of nine years old," he said.

Lula clashes with church

The girl, who lives in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, was allegedly sexually assaulted over a number of years by her stepfather, possibly since she was six.

The fact that she was four months pregnant with twins was only discovered after she was taken to hospital in Pernambuco complaining of stomach pains.

Her stepfather was arrested last week, allegedly as he tried to escape to another region of the country.

He is also suspected of abusing the girl's physically handicapped 14-year-old sister.

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