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Posted by on Jul 19, 2009 in Religion, Society | 18 comments

Vatican Unequivocally Confirms Automatic Excommunication for Anyone Involved in Abortion

You might remember several months ago the case of the nine-year old Brazilian girl who was raped by her stepfather:

Weighing just 79 pounds and barely four feet tall, the 9-year-old girl, from Alagoinha, a town in the northeast, underwent an abortion when she was 15 weeks pregnant at one of the 55 centers authorized to perform the procedure in Brazil. Abortion is legal [t]here only in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk.

The doctors’ actions set off a swirl of controversy. A Brazilian archbishop summarily excommunicated everyone involved — the doctors for performing the abortion and the girl’s mother for allowing it — except for the stepfather, who stands accused of raping the girl over a number of years.

“The law of God is above any human law,” said José Cardoso Sobrinho, the archbishop, who argued that while rape was bad, abortion was even worse.

Time picks up the story from there:

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, a solidly traditionalist Rome prelate considered close to [Pope Benedict XVI], tried to soften the Church’s approach on the Brazilian case by writing in the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the girl “should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side.” Two weeks ago, the Vatican announced that Sobrinho, who had been serving past retirement, was stepping down. And that’s where the Church stood. Until now.

In a tucked away “clarification” published on page 7 of a recent edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican produced a document that unequivocally confirmed automatic excommunication for anyone involved in an abortion — even in such a situation as dire as the Brazilian case. It settles any questions about the absolute nature of Church doctrine on the matter of abortion — but could potentially reignite the PR firestorm.

No word yet on automatic excommunication for those convicted of murder.

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  • rfyork

    One more reason I remain a confirmed apostate and ex Roman Catholic. The Roman church has become a rigid failed caricature of itself. I remember when Jack Kennedy was challenged for his faith. People were afraid he would follow the Pope’s orders rather than ask about the best interests of the nation. Now we have 4 Supreme Court justices who persist in putting their Roman Catholic faith above the liberties of their fellow citizens.


  • kathykattenburg

    This is the kind of thing that one can use as a really helpful tool for practicing self-restraint. The first word that came to mind when I read the Sobrinho quote was the one that begins with a “b” and is usually used as the male-gender counterpart for another word beginning with “b” that can either be a very rude word for a human female, or a value-neutral word for a female dog. Also, of course, the male-gender “b” word is sometimes used (used to be used more frequently than now) to refer to a child born out of wedlock.

    But you see, I didn’t use that word. I restrained myself.

  • Maxwell’s Demon

    I think that the church badly mishandled the P.R. on this. All they had to say that it was a tragedy that the girl was raped, condemn the father and then establish their doctrine. Rape is bad and murdering an innocent child will not help

  • kathykattenburg

    Rape is bad and murdering an innocent child will not help.

    In your opinion. Which is worth absolutely nothing in the context of whether a nine-year-old who is pregnant as the result of rape gets an abortion. You can say “Murdering an innocent child will not help” all you like, and you have the constitutional right to do so, and I will defend your constitutional right to do so. But that doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. It doesn’t mean that the way you define the issue (“murdering an innocent child”) is biologically, ethically, morally, or religiously correct. And it doesn’t mean that your presumption to know what will help and what will not help is valid, true, real, or to be taken seriously. In truth, you don’t know what will help. But let us know when your own nine-year-old daughter is raped and impregnated, and then you might have a legitimate clue as to what might help, given that you are the nine-year-old’s father. Other than in that one instance, not so much. No, not at all.

    Oh, and by the way, another thing. Rape is not “bad.” Rape is an atrocity — rape of a nine-year-old child even more so. Another thing you know far less about than your presumptuous self-regard tells you that you know.

    I do want to thank you, however, for giving me another opportunity to practice self-restraint.

  • PJBFan

    What the girl has had to endure in terms of rape is incredibly sickening, and a crime against nature. Rape by a step-father, who should, upon conviction be excommunicated, is not something any child should have to endure.

    That being said, other than not excommunicating the father, I think the Church is correct in its actions, except that it made a PR mistake. Abortion, to my mind, is murder, regardless of the situation. While nobody lacks sympathy for the girl, even in her situation, an abortion was the wrong choice spiritually, and, as she agreed to the procedure, she was rightfully excommunicated, until such sin is absolved.

  • StockBoySF

    What’s all this talk about the Catholic Church making a PR mistake? The issue is religion. What would the right “PR” decision have been? For the Catholic Church to go against its religious and spiritual beliefs just because it doesn’t want bad publicity?

    In the scheme of Catholic Church teachings abortion is murder and murder is worse than rape. Now if the Catholic Church feels that murder is worthy of excommunication, then so be it.

    I’m not going to bash anyone’s religious beliefs. People can believe what they want. Personally I don’t agree with the Catholic Church, it does not work for me. However I follow other religious beliefs and pursue my spirituality, which includes compassion. In my view Monsignor Fisichella, who believed that the girl should have been hugged and held so she would feel support has that part right. Though no mention is made as to his views of excommunication. I could not imagine being a nine year old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather. (Or even raped once.) When people talk about evil in this world, let there be no mistake that this is evil. At the very least the stepfather should have a psychiatric evaluation and treatment along with spiritual counseling. Behind bars.

    No religion is easy to follow and all require some sort of sacrifice. I have nothing but respect for Catholics (or anyone else) who faithfully follow (or try to follow) the religious teachings of their church.

  • JSpencer

    I look forward to the day when society is sufficiently advanced we no longer take seriously the wrongheaded rulings handed down by out of touch savants working for institutions founded on superstition. No, I won’t be holding my breath, and yes, I hope the stepfather burns in hell . . . (a secular hell of course).

  • “Abortion is legal [t]here only in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk.”

    What seems to be missing from this story, and what may be causing many on this thread to call this merely a “PR mistake”, is that not only did the 9-year-old girl fit the “cases of rape” criterion for legal abortion, but she also fit the “mother’s life is at risk” criterion. She was pregnant with twins, had not even grown her child-bearing hips yet, and was likely only fertile at all at her age because she was exposed to sexual abuse for years — this is known to speed up onset of menarchy. It was determined that a young girl of her age, with her tiny, undeveloped body, would almost certainly die if made to carry the pregnancy to term, and was indeed having extreme physical difficulty carrying the pregnancy at 15 weeks.

    She had an abortion so she wouldn’t die. So no, “murdering an innocent child will not help” — exactly, that’s why she had the abortion.

  • EEllis

    The girl was not excommunicated, everyone else was. And whats the big deal anyway? If you believe then you believe and should practice the tenets of your faith. If, like so many here, you don’t believe then why would excommunication bother you? You don’t believe remember! Come on they should become Catholic light so non catholics will approve even when they still don’t plan to become catholic? That really makes sense. So does taking polls to decide “god’s” will.

    For the record, not a believer. I do however repect those that are.

  • DLS

    “If you believe then you believe and should practice the tenets of your faith.”

    Unfortunately, a number of people want everything to be politically correct or hew to their demands.

    That is the problem here.

  • “If, like so many here, you don’t believe then why would excommunication bother you?”

    That’s much easier to say in a place like the United States, which is not a Catholic country. Being excommunicated here might be a difficult thing for a person for spiritual reasons, of course, but in a Catholic country like Brazil, it takes on an entirely different meaning, and carries a much greater weight. The mother of a 9 year old, sexually abused girl, who would have almost certainly died but for the abortion, made a decision to seek such an abortion to save her daughter’s life. For that, she was excommunicated from a powerful church that purports to support “life”. For people who DO believe, as the those involved almost certainly do, this means that they (particularly the mother of the girl) had to choose between her daughter’s life, and what she believes is eternal damnation due to her excommunication. If that’s not a difficult and heartbreaking example of the “right to choose”, I don’t know what is.

    • EEllis

      “they (particularly the mother of the girl) had to choose between her daughter’s life, and what she believes is eternal damnation due to her excommunication. If that’s not a difficult and heartbreaking example of the “right to choose”, I don’t know what is.”

      Heartbreaking yes. So? Faith is Faith, belief is belief. If it is easy then it means nothing and is worth just as much. I wouldn’t put up with it but would except that they felt I was no longer part of their faith when I violated their tenets of faith. I’m missing what people want here. For catholics to abandon their church or just for them to change their belief systems.

  • kathykattenburg

    She had an abortion so she wouldn’t die.

    You’ve touched on a central point, roro. She had an abortion so she wouldn’t die. And if she had *not* had the abortion, and had died as a result, the mother would not have been excummunicated. Which would mean that, according to Church orthodoxy, either the girl is not a human life, or her life is worth less than the life of the fetus. And that, in my view, is the crux of the evil at work here.

  • JSpencer

    If, like so many here, you don’t believe then why would excommunication bother you?

    Insofar as dictation of and adherence to religious doctrine represents delayed progress in rational human societal development, and to the extent that I have to function in that human society, then the reasons it bothers me ought to be fairly obvious. That said, it doesn’t keep me awake at night; I’m awake at night for other reasons, probably mostly having to do with age. I agree with roro80’s comment; the whole matter can be shrugged off in some cultures more easily than in others. Have I said the Vatican is out of touch yet? Painfully so.

  • Father_Time

    Well the catholics can take “gods law” and shove it up their arse. This is the attitude the catholic church takes with regard to OUR NATIONS LAW. They hide and protect pedophiles, criminals and illegal aliens in defiance of our laws and I am SICK OF IT!

    Revoke the catholic church’s tax status NOW!

  • kathykattenburg

    I’m awake at night for other reasons, probably mostly having to do with age.

    Me, too. Both parts. Awake at night, probably having to do with age. But also because it’s a symptom of depression.

  • kathykattenburg

    Well the catholics can take “gods law” and shove it up their arse.

    I couldn’t agree more, except that I would add that it’s not God’s law to force a nine-year-old child who’s been raped to die in childbirth. Abortion is not mentioned in the Bible — at least not in the Hebrew bible. I suppose I shouldn’t swear to that being the case for what Christians call the New Testament, since it’s not the text of my religion. But I can tell you for a fact it’s not mentioned in the Tanakh. There is one reference in the Torah to the legal consequences for physically harming a pregnant woman, which says in essence that the punishment is less severe if the woman herself is not killed. From this, the rabbis inferred that a fetus is not a human person in the same sense that a grown woman is.

    I would also add that there is a difference between a religious institution or governing authority, and the religion itself, taken as a set of beliefs and values created by human beings. I respect the Catholic faith and individual Catholic believers. I have nothing but contempt for the Vatican, the Pope, and the institutional structure/hierarchy that is known as the Catholic Church.

  • DavidPu

    I’m not sure I buy into all this anti-Catholic ranting. Although I’m not particularly religious I do come across the Catholic Church in inner city Baltimore with Catholic Charities and they certainly do a wonderful job there and it is based on their solid conviction that every human being is to be valued and respected. I haven’t yet found the local atheist soup kitchens (and I don’t think I ever will!). So when they extend their belief in the value of human dignity to conception, although I don’t agree with everything they conclude from this, I think their position is reasonable and consistent with what they have held for centuries and once a moral principle is established, you have to be consistent with it. From my perspective, it is fundamentally a lot more moral than the human carnage that is passed off as a “womans right to choose” in the US where the reality is that some people want to extend the almighty consumer society to human life. And the idea that the Catholic Church does not condemn murder or rape is just patently absurd. The sex abuse scandal was a disgrace I agree, but by all accounts it is just a reflection of a broader predilection for child sex abuse in the US and pedophilia is rampant in many other US organizations that deal with children. Although the Church was no worse than many other organizations, they got what they deserved because they hold themselves up to be above this morally. They were hypocrites!
    The problem regarding the girl is 2-fold. First, blogs like this are full of emotionally charged half-truths and deliberate misrepresentations. Even a minimal amount of searching on the Internet showed that the doctors in fact did NOT say that the girl would die in child-birth. In fact they said the exact opposite, namely that medically, the risk to the girl, although it was not zero, was minimal even if she went to term, and they would not allow the pregancy to go to term. I talked to a doctor friend about this and although he did not know the details, he claimed that a surgical procedure would be required in either case, abortion or childbirth, and assuming no complications, either was likely to have a safe outcome. What is also not stated in the blog and is very suspicious is that the child and her mother were then taken away secretly by a feminist group to an unknown hospital which performed the abortion immediately, putting the mother at risk from the Brazilian legal authorities since the consensus position up to that point among the doctors was that the child’s life was not in any more danger from the chidbirth than from the abortion and that the doctors would authorize an immediate abortion if the risk from the preganancy escalated. I also heard, but cannot corroborate that the child herself had originally requested that the pregnancy be allowed to proceed, but it would appear that the last person whose opinion was valued by either side was the child. So the truth here is that this child is just a pawn being pushed around by both sides to make a point.
    The real issue I have with the Catholic Church is not their belief in the value of human life which I broadly agree with. It is their absolutist moral theology that does not recognize that often moral issues are dilemmas where upholding one moral value may go against another equally momentous value and sometimes real life is just about trying to resolve tragic moral dilemmas and preserve the maximum good. So for example, while I agree that every step possible should be taken not to kill the babies, if eventually the girl’s life is at risk, then the correct moral solution to this dilemma is to save her life since she did not choose the pregnancy. Where I disagree with the rants on this blog, is that the abortion may preserve the greatest good, but the resultant death of the babies is a tragedy rather than the disposal of some inconvenient bunch of cells. I will never share the evident disregard for the basic value of human life that some contributers to this blog apparently have, but I agree with them that Catholic Church should not impose arcane and questionable theological ideas on real people particularly in life and death type situations.

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