Cardinal's rape remark angers politicians

The Harper government is distancing itself from anti-abortion remarks made by the Catholic Church's top Canadian official over the weekend.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josee Verner called the comments "unacceptable."

"It is well-known that I am pro-choice," the minister told reporters in Quebec city on Monday. "To suggest that we could reopen the debate on abortion is unacceptable."

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, attending the Campagne Pro-Vie conference in Quebec City on Saturday, suggested that abortion can never be justified, even in cases where a woman has been raped.

He called abortion a "moral crime" as serious as murder.

Ouellet said he understands how a sexually assaulted woman has been traumatized and must be helped, and that her attacker must be held accountable.

"But there is already a victim," he said. "Must there be another one?"

The comments from Ouellet come as the abortion issue, long dormant in national politics, has begun heating up again.

Ouellet applauded the Harper government for its stance against funding abortions in the developing world.

Canadian officials say they will instead focus the G8 plan on other measures aimed at improving the health of women and children in poor countries — including safe drinking water, nutrition and immunization programs.

But, Verner replied that the government isn't looking for endorsements like the one from Ouellet.

Cardinal simply stating doctrine

The comments from Ouellet, the Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of the Catholic Church in Canada, were denounced by several Quebec politicians.

Quebec's Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Christine St-Pierre said the abortion issue has been resolved in the province.

"Never will we women, and many men in Quebec, go back to the days of knitting needles," said St-Pierre.

"[Abortion] is a choice that is a personal one, and we as a society have a duty to make sure that things are done in a safe way."

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, speaking to a weekend party policy conference, said she was "absolutely outraged" by the remarks, adding that the archbishop of Quebec was trying to undo rights that were won decades ago.

Last Thursday, Ouellet attended a large anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill where activists urged the federal government to reopen the debate on abortion in Canada.

Alexa Conradi, president of the Quebec Women's Federation, said a number of private member bills have been introduced since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa that threaten Canadian women's legal rights to an abortion.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Quebec City says Ouellet was simply stating Church doctrine when a reporter asked him about rape and abortion.

With files from The Canadian Press