The Vatican on Wednesday said it was suspending all financial aid to Amnesty International and called on all Catholics to stop supporting the human rights group, accusing it of promoting abortion.
"No more Catholic financing of Amnesty International after the organization's pro-abortion about-turn," a statement from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said.
The council's president, Cardinal Renato Martino, said the "suspension of all financing of Amnesty by Catholic organizations and by individuals" is the "inevitable consequence" of the group's recent decision to support access to abortion for women who had been raped or whose health was endangered by their pregnancy.
Amnesty Italy promptly said it did not receive any Vatican or Catholic Church funding anyway.
In a statement, Amnesty Italy said it had decided in April to involve itself in issues relating to abortion "to the extent that they are directly linked to its actions for the right to health and against violence against women."
As a result it will call for an end to the penalization of women who have abortions and the right of women who are victims "of sexual violence or incest" or run health risks to have abortions.
But it will not conduct any worldwide campaign in favor of abortion or its general legalization and "will not make any judgement on whether it is right or not."
"Thanks be to God, there is no internationally-recognized right to abortion," Martino said, before attacking "the pro-abortion pressure groups which continue their propaganda in the framework of what [the late pope] John Paul II called `the culture of death.'"
"It is extremely worrying that an organization as worthy as Amnesty International bends to the pressures of these groups," he said.
The Vatican statement reproduces statements by Martino on the US Internet site National Catholic Report.
The site also quotes Widney Brown, one of the heads of Amnesty International, who said that 68,000 women die each year from backstreet abortions.
Brown said that Amnesty's views on abortion were inspired by its international campaign to combat violence against women.
But, Martino said, "the Church teaches that the murder of a human being can never be justified."
"Abortion is murder and to justify it selectively, in the event of rape, that is to define an innocent child in the belly of its mother as an enemy, as `something one can destroy,'" he said.
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