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The Holy See Abandons its Pro-Life Position

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Until recently, there was a consistent teaching in the Catholic Church that abortion was always wrong and could never be justified, not for molestation, rape, or even danger of life of the mother. Black is black, white is white. Catholic teaching was unflinching in its noble stand that there was no justification for killing an innocent child.

On March 25, however, a serious change entered the picture. The newly appointed President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, issued an unbelievable statement in the official organ of the Holy See strongly censuring Brazilian Archbishop of Recife, José Cardoso Sobrinho, for excommunicating the doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old girl. The document also implied that the abortion could have been “the lesser of two evils.” (1)

Backlash of the Brazilian Bishops

Admittedly the case is a tragic one. A nine-year-old girl, referred to only as Carmen, was found to be four months pregnant with twins. Her stepfather has reportedly admitted that he molested the girl and her older sister for several years. Despite her young age, however, she was not in any serious danger according to the hospital. Several doctors affirmed the babies could have been safely delivered via caesarean section. But even if her life had been in danger, the abortion would have been criminal because no circumstance whatsoever can make the murder of a child licit.

Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho

"I fulfilled my obligation."
Carmen’s mother and birth father were both initially opposed to abortion on moral grounds. Then the pro-abortion feminist Grupo Curumim stepped in to convince both parents that Carmen would die if she carried the babies to term. From that point on, the media uncritically repeated this datum, ignoring testimonies of doctors to the contrary.

On the day before the twins were killed, Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho announced that the doctors and anyone else involved in the abortion would incur automatic excommunication. He was careful to specify that the girl herself was not excommunicated, due to her lack of understanding and control over the situation. Cardoso later clarified that excommunication for participation in direct abortion is automatic under Canon Law, and so his statement was simply the observance of a fact that he felt obliged in conscience to announce. (2)

Archbishop Cardoso was initially supported by his fellow Bishops in Brazil, who on March 8 released a note endorsing his action. A letter of praise also came from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome. Pro-life groups around the world eulogized his action: Finally, a Bishop was taking a serious stand and excommunicating the guilty parties in the crime of abortion.

Then the media campaign of denunciation against the excommunications began. Brazilian President Luiz Lula, along with his pro-abortion health minister and several members of Brazil's Congress, made strong public critiques. Before too long a time had passed, the Brazilian Bishops were abandoning Cardoso to the wild beasts.

On March 12, Secretary General of the Brazilian Bishops Dimas Lara Barbosa effectively rescinded the excommunication, explaining it did not apply because the mother was trying to save her child's life and that it was impossible to judge the doctors’ “degree of understanding.” The only person singled out for criticism was Archbishop Cardoso for declaring the excommunications and stirring up the fuss. (3)

Fisichella's letter

It was the response of the new head of the Pontifical Academy of Life that made the most devastating rejection of Archbishop Cardoso's salutary action. His answer was published in the official organ of the Vatican, L’Osservatore Romano, adding more muscle to the statement.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella

Fisichella condemns the excommunications and praises those who practiced abortion
I think it should be emphasized that, given the notoriety of the case and position of its author, the article had obviously received careful scrutiny by Vatican authorities before it was published. It was not just Archbishop Fisichella who was speaking; it was the Holy See.

Using language that echoes the rhetoric of pro-abortion organizations, Archbishop Fisichella blasted the Archbishop of Recife for having acted too “hastily” in declaring the excommunication. (4)

First of all, he affirmed, Carmen should have been “defended, embraced, comforted and reassured we were all with her – all, without any distinction.”

Then, he continued, “Before considering excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life and return it to a level of humanity … It didn’t happen that way and unfortunately affected the credibility of our teaching that appears to the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible, and merciless"

Fisichella then went on to defend the physicians who had carried out the abortion, denying that they deserved the sentence of excommunication. Repeating the unsubstantiated claim that the abortion was necessary to save the child's life, he stated, “What should be done in these cases? It is a difficult decision for the doctor and for Moral Law itself. Decisions like these ... have to be made every day ... and the doctor's conscience must be left alone to decide what is the best thing to do."

At the end of the letter, Fisichella praises those who "have allowed you [the girl] to live."

With this statement, the doors of doubt have clearly opened. Is abortion permissible in cases of rape or if the woman's health is in danger? The answer used to be a swift and certain NO. Now, there is hesitation. Well, perhaps in some cases ... like that of the Brazilian girl …

And whence comes the uncertainty? From the Holy See, from the very place that should orient the faithful with clear and constant teaching.

Holy See approves 'therapeutic abortion'

The Archdiocese of Recife made a strong rebuttal on March 16 to Fisichella's letter in an official document titled "Clarifications" (5) published on the Archdiocese website. Other pro-life priests and commentators are begging for a word from Rome to clarify the now-foggy terrain. Instead, more confusion has entered the picture. Now, it seems that we have an approval of "therapeutic abortion."

Veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister reported the following news regarding the thinking of Benedict XVI on the matter. On March 21, the director of the Holy See press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, clearly stated that Benedict XVI's few lines against abortion on his recent trip to Cameroon and Angola had nothing to do with the case of the Brazilian girl. (6)

“Regarding this case,” Lombardi affirmed, “the considerations of Archbishop Rino Fisichella apply when he lamented in L'Osservatore Romano the hasty declaration of excommunication by the Archbishop of Recife. No extreme case should obscure the true meaning of the remarks by the Holy Father, who was referring to something very different. [...] The pope absolutely was not talking about therapeutic abortion, and did not say that this must always be rejected." (7)

With this statement it would seem the word from Rome has been given. In the question of excommunications, they are absolutely no longer allowed. In the matter of abortion, we have a virtual approval of "therapeutic abortion."

1. The full translated text of “In Favor of the Brazilian Girl” by Rino Fisichella can be read at the bottom of this page: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1337637?eng=y
2. “Pro-Life Brazilian Archbishop Abandoned by Fellow Bishops,” LifeSiteNews.com, March 25, 2009
3. Ibid.
4. See Note 1 for text of the letter.
5. The full translated text of “Clarifications of the archdiocese of Olinda and Recife” can be read at the bottom of this page: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1337637?eng=y The original text, in Portuguese, on the Archdiocesan website can be found here.
6. On March 20, speaking to the diplomatic corps and referring to article 14 of the Protocol of Maputo on "maternal and reproductive health," the pope said, “How bitter the irony of those who promote abortion as a form of maternal healthcare! How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health!" Sandro Magister, “Drifting Mines. In Africa the Condom, in Brazil Abortion.” Chieso News online, March 23, 2009.
7. Ibid.
Posted March 30, 2009

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