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Pope condemns `culture of death'



Pope John Paul II yesterday warned the world's 960 million Roman Catholics of an expansion of a "culture of death" within society which it is their duty to oppose.

In the 11th encyclical of his papacy, Evangelium Vitae, "the Gospel of Life", the Pontiff issued a wide-ranging condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and in vitro fertilisation. The encyclical also brought the Church its closest yet to calling for a ban on capital punishment.

The Pope said that lives were being lost not through wars but through abortion, the growth in euthanasia and in the rising use of IVF. He condemned the reproductive method on the grounds that experimentation on embryos constituted a "crime against their dignity". "The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act," he said.

The Pontiff came out equally strongly against euthanasia. States which allowed it were acting as "tyrants rather than as a "common home" for all.

But the Pope signalled a softening of the Church's views on the death penalty, which until now it has supported as society's right to legitimate self defence. The encyclical notes calls for it to be limited or abolished and says penal systems today almost always have an alternative punishment. The Pope said this was "an issue that disturbed many people in this country - not just Catholics".

The encyclical was welcomed by Cardinal Basil Hume, who warned that Britain was already on the "slippery slope" towards the culture of death described by the Pope. This, he said, had started with the legalisation of abortion in 1967 and threatened to get worse with growing support expressed for euthanasia. "Our society should stop and ask where all this will lead to," the Cardinal said.

Asked whether he supported in vitro fertilisation for couples having problems conceiving, the Cardinal described it as "morally wrong". This was because conceptions should not take place outside the body and the technique involved the destruction of many embryos.

Papal call to arms, Page 3