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Vatican Official Says Doctors Didn’t Deserve Excommunication

posted by nsymmonds

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s top bioethics official said the two Brazilian doctors who performed an abortion on a 9-year-old rape victim do not merit excommunication, since they acted to save her life.
The statement by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, appeared as the lead article in the Sunday (Mar. 15) issue of the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“There are others who deserve excommunication and our forgiveness,”
Fisichella wrote, addressing the unidentified rape victim, “not those who permitted you to live and who will help you to regain hope and faith.”
The case drew international attention earlier this month after the local Catholic archbishop excommunicated the two doctors who aborted the girl’s twin fetuses, as well as the girl’s mother.
The child was 15 weeks pregnant, allegedly after being raped by her stepfather. Weighing only 80 pounds, she might have died if forced to carry the pregnancy to term, the doctors said.
While reiterating Catholic teaching that abortion is an “intrinsically wicked act,” Fisichella suggested that under the circumstances, it may have been the lesser evil.
“Her life was in serious danger because of the pregnancy in progress,” Fisichella wrote. “How to act in these cases? An arduous decision for the physician and for the moral law itself.”
In contrast with church authorities’ typically uncompromising statements on abortion, Fisichella stressed the degree of moral discretion that the doctors were forced to exercise.
“The conscience of the physician finds itself alone when forced to decide the best thing to do,” he wrote. “A choice like that of having to save a life, knowing that one puts a second at serious risk, never comes easily.”
The article did not explicitly mention the girl’s mother, who was excommunicated for authorizing the abortion. Church officials have said the girl is not under threat of excommunication.
Another extraordinary aspect of Fisichella’s article was its frank rebuke of Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, archbishop of Olinda and Recife, whom it accused of having “rushed” to declare the excommunications — “a judgment as heavy as a meat cleaver” — when his first task should have been the pastoral care of the victim.
Cardoso Sobrinho’s action had harmed the “credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of so many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking in mercy,” Fisichella wrote.
Since church law requires the automatic excommunication of anyone who collaborates in an abortion, Fisichella wrote, “there was no need … for such urgency and publicity” in declaring the fact.
Fisichella’s article also implicitly contradicted Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, who had publicly defended Cardoso Sobrinho’s action earlier this month.
Vatican officials rarely air their differences in public, let alone on the front page of the pope’s own newspaper.
According to the respected Vatican journalist Sandro Magister, Fisichella’s article was probably approved in advance by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Secretary of State is considered the Vatican’s No. 2 official after Pope Benedict XVI himself.
After nearly two months of international controversy over the pope’s decision to readmit a Holocaust-denying bishop to the church in late January, Magister called this case of crossed signals the latest indication of confusion at the highest levels of the Holy See.
“It is yet another sign of the disorder that reigns in the Curia,” Magister said, referring to the church’s international governing bureaucracy. “It shows that Benedict XVI is paying the price for refusing to reform the Curia.”
By Francis X. Rocca
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.



  • pagansister

    Interesting that public opinion NOT in favor of the archbishop that immediately excomunicated the doctors and the mother of the pregnant child has apparently caused this change of heart in the head honcho’s place, The Vatican. About time…there was a child’s life involved and the local bishop didn’t seem to take that into consideration when he decided to punish the mother and the doctors for saving her life!

  • Mordred08

    “About time…there was a child’s life involved and the local bishop didn’t seem to take that into consideration when he decided to punish the mother and the doctors for saving her life!”
    I’m with you on this one, pagansister. Also, I’m curious, since I don’t recall seeing it in any of the articles: while the only people close to heroes in this tragic situation are being treated like criminals, what’s happening to the actual criminal here (i.e, the child’s stepfather)?

  • nnmns

    As I recall rape, even of one’s daughter, is not an excommunicable offense. But to some (most?) archbishops using an abortion to save a girl’s life is.
    It is a good sign that Ab Fisichella used some ethical thinking rather than just relying on current Church doctrine.

  • Your Name

    I can’t wait to see what ErinManninng has to say about this.

  • Bob

    Would it kill you people to read up on the official Church teaching before you comment? You might find this interesting, from NewAdvent.org (online Catholic Encyclopedia):
    “However, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother’s life, is applied to her organism (though the child’s death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fetal life is thereby directly attacked.
    The Church teaches that an abortion done to save the mother’s life is permitted, which is why this bishop’s actions were called out by the Vatican. It had nothing to do with public opinion.
    But why the let the facts get in the way?

  • Bob

    Nnmns:
    Excommunication applies to doctrinal disputes and heresies, not to particular sins.
    Honestly, I can’t figure out why you people don’t just pick up a Catechism and read.

  • pagansister

    Bob, it would seem that the archbishop “on scene” might need to read the Catechism again. He’s the dude that tried to oust the mom and the doctors in this case. He’s SUPPOSED to know the “rules”. not us pagan, non-Catholics. We go on common sense.

  • pagansister

    HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY TO ALL! Wearing the green, always a good thing, IMO.

  • nnmns

    He’s SUPPOSED to know the “rules”. not us pagan, non-Catholics. We go on common sense.

    Well said ps!
    And indeed, Happy St. Patty’s day to all us Irish, even those of us Irish for a day.

  • mike

    It is with great sadness that I wonder how anyone could harm a young girl in this way. It is with equal sadness that I wonder how sick, depraved people could kick a mother out of a church after such a traumatic event. These are the same people that couldn’t allow an exception in the communion cracker recipe for the little girl with a severe gluten allergy.
    But I suppose there is a small blessing in this; this is exactly the kind of thing that helps people move on from the church, and take control of their own path. Another way of saying it that it helps people move from the blue meme into the orange meme (Spiral Dynamics). I wonder how the church could ever have any moral authority again with this mother.

  • Tom

    She could’ve had a sip of precious blood under the species of wine. Doctrinally speaking is all the same. God Bless :-)

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