VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Pontifical Academy for Life president is lamenting the recently aborted Brazilian twins of a nine-year-old girl, and is calling the consequent excommunication of those who cooperated in it “precipitous.”
In an article published Sunday in L’Osservatore Romano, Archishop Rino Fisichella spoke about the case of a young Brazilian girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather, and was expecting twins. In early March, an abortion was performed on the girl, who is just over 52 inches tall and weighs 79 pounds.
The case drew even more controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife excommunicated the mother and all the members of the medical team, generating criticisms against the Church in Brazil.
Archbishop Fisichella lamented the precipitous condemnation in such a morally delicate case. Referring to the excommunication “latae sententiae” [automatically incurred at the moment of the act], he said that “such urgency and publicity was not necessary.”
What is most needed at this time, he explained, “is the sign of a testimony of closeness with the one suffering, an act of mercy that, even while firmly maintaining the principle, is able to look beyond the juridical sphere.”
It is true that the girl “carried within her innocent lives like her own, though the fruit of violence, and they have been done away with; however, this is not enough to pass a judgment that weighs as a condemnation,” he added.
Mercy over justice
The archbishop lamented the image given by the Church in this case, as “before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl, and return her to a level of humanity of which we, men of the Church, should be expert heralds and teachers.”
In this case, he said, the girl “should in the first place have been defended, embraced, caressed with tenderness to make her feel that we are all with her.”
He stated that Archbishop Sobrinho’s “hasty” reaction has caused resentment and has undermined the credibility of the Church’s teaching, “which in the eyes of many seems insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking in mercy.”
Archbishop Fisichella emphasized that the condemnation of abortion as an intrinsic evil is one of the moral principles which the Church cannot overlook even if she wished to. However, he pointed out that the present case “was very delicate,” and that “to treat it expeditiously does not do justice” either to the fragile person of the girl or to all those involved in the case.
The prelate also noted that, unfortunately, a case like this “would have passed unnoticed, as so many similar ones, if it was not for the uproar of the reactions caused by the bishop’s intervention.”
He affirmed, “Violence to a woman, already grave in itself, assumes an even more blameworthy dimension when the one suffering is a girl, with the additional burden of poverty and the social degradation in which she lives.”
“There are no adequate words to condemn incidents such as this one,” added the prelate.
Archbishop Fisichella acknowledged that in this case it is hard to make specific judgments while doing justice to truth, given that the doctors were faced with a very grave moral dilemma.
In regard to the girl, he stated, “because of her very young age and her precarious health conditions, her life was in serious danger by the pregnancy under way.” He continued: “How should one act in such cases? It is an arduous decision for the doctors and for the moral law itself.”
The prelate said, “Scenes such as this, though with a different casuistry, are repeated daily in resuscitation rooms, and the doctor’s conscience is alone at the moment of deciding what is the best thing to do.”
For any doctor, unless he is insensitive, “a choice such as this of saving a life knowing that he puts another in serious danger, is not easily lived,” he added.
The archbishop noted, “In any case, no one comes to a decision of this sort with ease; it is unjust and offensive just to think of it.”
In the same vein, Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, publicly lamented last week that “the most repugnant aspect of this case was diluted, given the controversy over the excommunication.”
However, as a March 6 statement from the conference pointed out, the real problem is “the increase of cases of abuse of minors in the country,” a topic “on which the national conscience must be awakened.”
The prelate also clarified that the penalty of excommunication “is not synonymous with condemnation to hell, but is a disciplinary act of the Church,” which attempts “to call the attention of consciences to an intrinsically grave act, of whose gravity at times there is no clear perception.”
He also pointed out that Archbishop Sobrinho himself “has not excommunicated anyone,” given that, according to the law of the Church, excommunication is automatic when an abortion is carried out.
Moreover, he clarified that “to incur an excommunication, the person must be conscious of the gravity of the act and have the freedom to practice it,” which in this case excludes the minor and no doubt also her mother, “who acted under pressure.”