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Vatican issues politician guidelines

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican issued a new set of guidelines for Catholic politicians Thursday, reminding them to heed the church's "non-negotiable" teachings on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and other issues when making public policy.

The Vatican said it was publishing the document now because of medical and scientific advances and because of the "emergence of ambiguities or questionable positions in recent times."

The guidelines, prepared by the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, don't offer any change to the church's long-held opposition to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and its promotion of the rights of the unborn.

Rather, they serve as a reminder of church teachings for Catholic politicians, so that when they vote for legislation or otherwise influence public policy, they do so in line with certain "non-negotiable ethical principles."

In particular, the document said laws concerning abortion and euthanasia "must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo."

It said laws safeguarding marriage between man and woman must be promoted and that "in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such."

The document also referred vaguely to issues of peace, saying Catholics should not confuse the church's promotion of peace and rejection of violence with "secular" pacificist and ideological visions.

The guidelines don't mention punishment — such as excommunication — for Catholic politicians who fail to toe the line. Rather, they frame the issue as one of "conscience" that politicians will have to deal with.

"Scientific progress has resulted in advances that are unsettling for the consciences of men and women, and call for solutions that respect ethical principles in a coherent and fundamental way," the document said.

"Catholics, in this difficult situation, have the right and the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard," it said.

The Vatican stressed that it wasn't trying to dictate policy or interfere in matters of state, but to rather "instruct and illuminate" Catholic political leaders.

The timing of the document's release came a week before the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision lifting anti-abortion laws nationwide. Demonstrations by the pro-life and pro-choice movements in the United States are planned for Jan. 22.

That date also marks the start of the Roman Catholic church's World Meeting of Families — a five-day meeting in Manila, Philippines to promote family values.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the publication of the document, saying it "addresses some of the profound challenges faced by Catholic politicians and voters who are confronted with various moral and social issues in the context of a democratic society."

He said he hoped the document would encourage U.S. Catholic politicians to continue to "respect the most essential moral values of our human nature." The Vatican released similar statements from German and Italian cardinals along with the document Thursday.

While not offering concrete examples of legislation for Catholic politicians to promote, the document does propose a model for them to emulate: St. Thomas More, the 16th century lawyer and diplomat who refused to renounce the pope and recognize the king as head of the English church.

King Henry VIII had More beheaded for his positions. Two years ago, Pope John Paul II made More the patron saint for politicians.

"He taught by his life and his death that 'man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality,"' the document said.