As Argentina opens abortion debate, pope urges defense of life


Buenos Aires (AFP)

Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Argentine people asking them to defend life, at a time when the Congress of the South American country is considering a bill to decriminalize abortion.

The five-paragraph letter, released Saturday by the Argentine Bishops' Conference, urges Argentines to "make a contribution in defense of life and justice."

The pope asks the Argentines to "improve the world with your work (and) to take care of the weakest."

The church vehemently opposes the legalization of abortion.

The letter was sent in response to congratulatory messages from Argentines on the occasion of Francis's fifth anniversary as leader of the Catholic Church, March 13.

The pope, in his letter, also offered a general apology for unspecified offenses.

"For those who may feel offended by some of my gestures," he wrote, "I ask your forgiveness. I can assure you that my intention is to do good."

The pope has been criticized in Latin America for not taking a harder line against alleged sexual abuse by priests.

Francis's message came only days after the Argentine government revealed that it spends 130 million pesos a year ($6.5 million) to support Catholic bishops in the country, as mandated by the Argentine constitution.

The pope was archbishop of Buenos Aires, his birthplace, until he was named to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as pontiff.