Vatican slams cloning report, remains sceptical

VATICAN CITY, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The Vatican's top moral theologian on Wednesday condemned the possibility of human cloning as offensive to God's plan and expressed deep scepticism about a claim that a cloned baby could be born next year.

Father Gino Concetti, a moral theologian whose views reflect those of Pope John Paul, spoke to Reuters a day after Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori told a news conference that the cloned baby was due in January.

"The church condemns human cloning as a method of procreation because it contradicts the Biblical principle of procreation through marriage," Concetti said in a telephone interview.

"Human cloning directly offends the dignity of the human being and God's plan for procreation," he said.

Concetti, who writes on morals for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, joined others in the medical and religous community who said they doubted Antinori's assertion.

"He has only hypothetical theories. So far, he has not shown anything concrete. If it is true, then the Church condemns it," Concetti said.

Church sources in Rome said they were also highly sceptical about Antinori's claim but did not want to be quoted.

"It sounds more like science fantasy and an illusion. Let's wait and see," one Church source said.

The source said a woman who Antinori said earlier this year was carrying a cloned baby should have given birth by now.

Many doctors and scientists reject human cloning as irresponsible, saying the risk of creating deformed or sick babies is too great and that it poses unanswerable ethical dilemmas.

Antinori gained fame nearly a decade ago when he helped a 62-year-old woman give birth after fertility treatment with a donated egg, but he has revealed few details about his latest project.

Cloning experts doubt Antinori or his unknown colleagues have the expertise to clone a human. Although sheep, mice and pigs have been cloned, scientists have not yet produced a carbon copy of any primate.

Concetti said the Roman Catholic Church did not condemn cloning of animals and plants as long as there was no threat to the variety of species.

"Cloning of animals and plants should not aim for a single species otherwise that species could be wiped out, for example, by disease," Concetti said.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Antinori gave no details about the woman's identity, the cloning of the embryo or where she would give birth, nor of two other women he said are carrying cloned embryos.