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Vatican split

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

VATICAN CITY (AP):  The Vatican's top bioethics official dismissed calls for his resignation following an uproar over his defense of doctors who aborted the twin fetuses of a nine-year-old child who was raped by her stepfather.

Monsignor Renato Fisichella told The Associated Press recently that he refused to respond to five members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life who questioned his suitability to lead the institution.

Fisichella wrote an article in the Vatican's newspaper in March saying the Brazilian doctors didn't deserve excommunication as mandated by church law because they were saving the girl's life. The call for mercy sparked heated criticism from some academy members who said it implied the Vatican was opening up to so-called "therapeutic abortion" to save the mother's life.

To quiet their complaints, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification in July, repeating the Catholic Church's firm opposition to abortion and saying Fisichella's words had been "manipulated and exploited".

annual plenary assembly

But that didn't stem the criticism, which boiled up again when the academy - an advisory body to the Pope made up of lay and religious bioethics experts from around the world - held its annual plenary assembly.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Fisichella to the post in 2008.

In an article, in L'Osservatore Romano, Fisichella stressed that abortion is always "bad." But he said the quick and public proclamation of excommunication by the Brazilian bishops "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy". He argued for respect for the Catholic doctors' wrenching decision.