Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi responded to an open letter this week sent to him by Christine de Vollmer, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. His response, in which he called one of de Vollmer's claims against him “deceptive” and “calumnious,” was discussed in a new column by Vatican analyst Sandro Magister.
In an open letter sent earlier this month, de Vollmer asked Fr. Lombardi to issue a formal clarification on his recent comments regarding a Feb. 19 statement written by a group of members from the Pontifical Academy of Life (PAV). In recent remarks to the press, Fr. Lombardi interpreted the group's statement as an official request for the resignation of the academy's president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. However, de Vollmer claimed in her March 7 letter to Fr. Lombardi that this was neither her nor the other signatories intent in writing the Feb. 19 statement. Rather, she claimed that the group wrote the statement in order to deny claims by Archbishop Fisichella that the group was free of disagreement and disunity.
Archbishop Fisichella sparked controversy last March when he wrote an article for the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, appearing to defend doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old rape victim pregnant with twins in Recife, Brazil.
De Vollmer's open letter also made reference to words reportedly said by the Vatican spokesman in support of the Recife situation while in Luanda, Angola in March 2009. Following an address at the time by Pope Benedict XVII in which the Pontiff denounced the idea of abortion being considered maternal health care, Fr. Lombardi allegedly stated in a press conference that “The Pope absolutely was not talking about therapeutic abortion, and did not say that this must always be rejected.”
In his response to de Vollmer, Father Lombardi explained her letter “contains – among other things – a reference to a press conference in Luanda that I consider to be biased, deceptive, false and calumnious regarding my person, and that in fact was not published by Sandro Magister, who did on the other hand reproduce the other parts of the letter.” He added, “Magister has since been better informed regarding these facts.”
The spokesman went on to clarify, “As reporters who were present in Luanda and understood what I was taking about could easily confirm, my brief comments surrounding the meeting between reporters and the two African bishops was intended to explain the specific African context to which the Pope referred, that is, the Maputo Protocol, which is explicitly cited in the written text of the Pope’s speech in Luanda.”
The Maputo Protocol was adopted by several African states in 2003 to secure rights for women on the continent, including the right to an abortion.
“To those, then, who asked for further explanations from me, I referred them to the traditional teaching of the Church on abortion. It is incredible that one year later, they continue to quote and highlight statements that I never wrote (and I believe I never said), based on word-of-mouth reports from untrustworthy second and third-hand sources,” Fr. Lombardi said.
Magister points out in his column that “in the letter from Christine de Marcellus Vollmer there was a section that ‘Settimo cielo’ (her blog) did not reproduce. And it did not reproduce it because is based on an incorrect quote.”
Magister explains that “the words here attributed to Father Lombardi were extracted from the March 23, 2009 edition of Chiesa News which was devoted to the double abortion of the girl in Recife and to the controversy that surrounded Benedict XVI’s trip to Cameroon and Angola. Those words were reprinted by news agencies and papers during those days.”
However, Magister explains that “It must be noted that after the publication of that edition of Chiesa News, it was clear that Father Lombardi had not spoken in equivocal terms about the ‘traditional teaching’ of the Church on abortion, and neither had he made that statement that continues to disturb pro-lifers: ‘The Pope has never said that therapeutic abortion should always be rejected.'”
Magister continues to note that “at that time, Father Lombardi wanted above all to explain to reporters that the reference made earlier by the Pope to the Maputo Protocol and the promotion of abortion as a ‘cure for maternal health’ had nothing to do with the case of the Brazilian girl and with so-called ‘therapeutic’ abortion.”
“In order to avoid any misunderstanding, as of now that quote that was revealed to be inaccurate will no longer appear in the March 23, 2009 edition of Chiesa News,” Magister says, adding that “if there is reason and basis for a ‘Fisichella case’ to exist, based on words that were written and never retracted, it is not so with a ‘Lombardi case,’ which has no basis whatsoever.”