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Vatican reminds Obama of differences on healthcare, abortion

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican congratulated President Barack Obama on his re-election but reminded him on Wednesday of the thorny differences between the Catholic Church and his administration over abortion and healthcare.

The Vatican hoped Obama would be able to serve law and justice "in respect of the essential human and spiritual values and the promotion of the culture of life and freedom of religion, which have always been so precious in the traditions of the American people and their culture," a spokesman said.

The "culture of life" is a phrase covering the Church's opposition to abortion. Obama supports abortion rights and made women's health issues a key part of his campaign.

The Catholic Church in the United States has been at odds with the Obama administration over his healthcare law, which requires private employers, including most religious private institutions, to provide workers with health insurance that covers contraceptives.

The Church has seen this as a threat to the freedom of religion enshrined in the U.S. constitution, a cry that was taken up by Pope Benedict this year.

More than 20 lawsuits have been filed against the birth control law by the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of New York and other organizations.

To coincide with the elections, the U.S. bishops conference set up a website, firstamericanfreedom.com, saying religious freedom was under threat at the federal, state and local levels of government.

It targeted national healthcare reform and local legislation that it said stopped Church workers providing services to undocumented immigrants.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict sent Obama a private message but did not release its text. The pope told the president he prayed that Obama would be able to carry out the ideals of freedom and justice, the Vatican added.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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