Pope pledges to uphold hard line on abortion

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Pope Benedict XVI has pledged to resist attempts to water down Vatican teaching, indicating he will uphold John Paul II's unwavering stands against abortion and euthanasia and will work to guarantee obedience to doctrine.

Pope Benedict XVI has pledged to resist attempts to water down Vatican teaching, indicating he will uphold John Paul II's unwavering stands against abortion and euthanasia and will work to guarantee obedience to doctrine.

Pope Benedict outlined a vision of his papacy in a homily on Saturday during a ceremony in which he took his place on a marble-and-mosaic throne in the ancient Roman basilica of St John Lateran. The ceremony is the last in Benedict's formal assumption of the papacy.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics struck an evidently humble note intended to disarm critics who accuse him of being overly authoritarian. He said that "the power conferred on Peter and his successors by Christ is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The Pope is not an absolute sovereign, whose thought and wish are law."

But the conservative Bavarian, previously nicknamed the "Panzer cardinal" by French media because of his unswerving orthdoxy as John Paul II's personal theologian, nevertheless vowed to resist any attempts to water down Vatican teaching. The Pope "must not proclaim his own ideas, but ever link himself and the Church to obedience to the word of God [even] when faced with all attempts of adaptation or of watering down, as with all opportunism," the 78-year-old pontiff said.

"That is what John Paul II did, when ... faced with erroneous interpretations of freedom. [He] underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of human beings, the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death," the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said, to applause.

In Vatican documents, references to the defence of life "from conception to natural death", refer to the Holy See's bans on abortion, artificial birth control and euthanasia.

After the service, the Pope paid a visit to the nearby basilica of St Mary Major where he was welcomed by the archpriest of that church, Cardinal Bernard Law. The cardinal is a former archbishop of Boston, who resigned over his involvement in covering up for paedophile priests in his archdiocese. The scandal has rocked the Catholic Church in the United States. Pope John Paul appointed Cardinal Law to the comfortable position of running the basilica of St Mary Major, sparking dismay among many liberals who would have preferred that the American prelate have opted for a lower profile as a parish priest.

At St Mary Major, the new Pope prayed to the icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Salus Populi Romani, the 'Salvation of the people of Rome'. Benedict asked Our Lady to help him cope with his "inexperience" as Pope and beseeched the Virgin to "watch over" the Eternal City.

"Comfort those who arrive here without a roof, undefended, and extend your sustenance to everyone," Benedict said.

The unsurprising content of Benedict's tough doctrinal stance led the veteran Vatican reporter for the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Luigi Accatoli, to comment yesterday that "one has understood that the most beautiful words that the new Pope will say will be prayers".

Italian newspapers yesterday gave prominence to the resignation from the US Jesuit magazine America of its editor-in-chief, Thomas J Reese. In his previous guise as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man who is now Pope had repeatedly reprimanded him for his editorial positions questioning Rome's teaching on such matters as homosexuality and bioethics.

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