VATICAN CITY -- A Vatican handbook released yesterday laid out Roman Catholic Church teaching questioning preventive war and denouncing the ''horrendous crime" of abortion. But Vatican officials sidestepped questions on whether the war in Iraq was illegal or whether Catholics can vote for candidates who back laws permitting abortion.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls intervened at a news conference when a top Vatican cardinal was asked whether the faithful can cast ballots for a candidate who supports legalized abortion. ''The Holy See never gets involved in electoral or political questions directly," he said.
Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, is a Catholic who has said that while he is personally opposed to abortion, he upholds the right of women to have one.
Pope John Paul II has vigorously championed the Vatican's longstanding opposition to abortion, which was denounced as a ''horrendous crime" in the Vatican document released yesterday.
''Far from being a right, it is a sad phenomenon," it said.
Some US church officials, such as Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, have said Kerry should be denied the sacrament of Communion.
Navarro-Valls said bishops, if they desired, could weigh in on campaign issues to ''illuminate the consciences of the faithful with ethical elements so they can make a judgment" in elections.
Officials at the news conference described the 524-page compilation of doctrine as a kind of handbook that could help business, political, and cultural leaders.
Appearing to break no new ground, the volume quoted extensively from, and offered reflections on, writings and speeches by Pope John Paul II and previous pontiffs on matters including preventive war, terrorism, the death penalty, immigration, workers' rights, poverty, globalization, free markets, and human rights.
Under the heading ''legitimate defense," the compendium said ''a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions."
Arguing that the war in Iraq was necessary, the Bush administration said in the run-up to the conflict that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.
In an apparent reference to the United Nations, the document said ''international legitimacy for the use of armed forces, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved for a state."
The former Vatican envoy to the United Nations, Cardinal Renato Martino, was asked whether ''in hindsight," the US-led war against Iraq would be ''illegal" in the eyes of the church. Martino replied: ''Did you read the address of the pope to President Bush?"
Martino was referring to the pontiff's words to Bush last June. In that address, John Paul expressed ''grave concern" about events in Iraq and his desire for achievement of ''normalization."