SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — The pope, it turns out, has an editor.
Fallout from comments Benedict XVI made Wednesday about abortion and excommunication has been so intense that the Vatican has simply changed the record.
It all began when the pope, in a news conference aboard his flight to Brazil, appeared to endorse the excommunication of Roman Catholic politicians who vote to legalize abortion.
His spokesman then made several clarifications, leading reporters to understand that the pope meant to say that these politicians had in effect excommunicated themselves (a lesser penalty) and could not receive Holy Communion.
But when the transcript of the news conference appeared Thursday on the Vatican's official website, the pope's comments had been altered.
Nothing extraordinary about that, said the papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.
"Every time the pope speaks, improvising, the [Vatican] Secretariat of State reviews and cleans up his remarks," Lombardi said.
The changes in this case involved only a couple of words, but they significantly altered the meaning.
In the 25-minute news conference, Benedict was asked if he agreed with excommunication for Mexican lawmakers who last month legalized abortion in Mexico City. "Yes, this excommunication is not something arbitrary," he answered, before going on to explain that such punishment is part of church law.
The transcript on the Vatican website removes the "Yes, this" and begins, "Excommunication is ... " -- making his remarks seem more generic and unconnected to the case in Mexico.
The Vatican apparently wanted to tone down a potentially explosive statement by the pontiff on a highly sensitive subject. But judging from the headlines across Latin America on Thursday, it might be too late.