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Vatican says it was duped on Kerry stance

Lawyer had raised abortion issue

VATICAN CITY -- A conservative US lawyer's attempt to enlist the Vatican in his drive to declare Senator John F. Kerry a heretic over his abortion views backfired yesterday when the Holy See said it had been hoodwinked.

Marc Balestrieri, head of a conservative Catholic group called De Fide, has been pushing for the church to rule that the Democratic presidential candidate has inflicted excommunication on himself because he supports a woman's right to an abortion.

Balestrieri caused a stir in the United States this week when he asserted in interviews and on his website that he had won an unofficial and indirect green light from the Vatican.

But yesterday, the Vatican denied his assertions, which received widespread coverage in major US media.

Kerry, a Roman Catholic, says he is ''prochoice but not proabortion" and that he cannot impose his views on those who do not share his faith. Bush, a Methodist, is against abortion except in certain circumstances.

Balestrieri said he wanted to point out ''the growing misunderstanding by Catholics that they can publicly call themselves Catholics and support the right to choose abortion."

He said US Catholic leaders were afraid of strictly applying doctrine for ''fear of reprisals from politicians, loss of donations from prochoice Catholics, and lack of backbone."

Father Augustine Di Noia, third-ranking official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal office, said that Balestrieri had hoodwinked the church by misrepresenting himself.

Balestrieri submitted a query to the congregation several months ago, asking if someone who publicly supported abortion rights would be guilty of heresy and incur what the church calls ''automatic excommunication."

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