Monday, July 27, 2009

In Brazil It's Reproductive Roulette, Not Reproductive Choice

The real 'women' of Brazil the Church's policies are directly effecting.

Originally posted on Clerical Whispers, July 19, 2009

Abortion might be illegal in Brazil, but that doesn't mean you can't get one -- a million people do every year.The rich pick up the phone and go into a fancy clinic. The poor go to the drugstore and buy an ulcer pill. (So much for the effectiveness of making abortion illegal.)

The pill is called Cytotec and costs about two dollars a dose in the States.
In Brazil, though, it's a whole month's minimum salary these days [about $100], which is precisely where the Catholic Church comes into the story. It was direct pressure from the Church that pushed the pill, an effective abortifacient, from over-the-counter to prescription-only, with the accompanying price rise that sort of thing entails.

Not that this stops people from needing Cytotec. The poor who don't want to be pregnant have few other options -- just the usual gamut of back-alley procedures. Nor can they afford the kind of doctor who gives prescriptions, so they buy the pills under the table, which costs them a full month's pay, subsistence money, by the way, that would have clothed and fed their children -- because they all have children. And they know in ways the Bishops working against them seem not to fathom exactly what another one would cost them, and it's a price they cannot pay.

So they go hungry and take their chances with a pill the Catholic Church has driven to the black market. And the problem with that isn't only the price. The fingers-to-the-bone money they're paying might be for a two-cent coated aspirin. It may be strychnine. They cross themselves as they swallow, and wait a few days. If the bleeding doesn't stop, it still isn't a crime to go to the hospital.

Although it will be, if the bill the Church has managed to get in front of the Brazilian Congress that would criminalize the buying and selling of Cytotec becomes law. If it does, then the choices of the poor who have problems with the pill will be prison or bleeding to death.

The bill has opposition and is unlikely to pass. But it's hard to recognize the Church in Brazil as the same one that in the Eighties was home to the great liberation theologists, whose conception of crime entailed less people desperate to escape pregnancy than capitalist systems that by their very nature sinned against the poor.

Those priests worked in the streets, lived in the slums, knew the unwanted children, knew their mothers; but there have been four popes since the Vatican II of Pope John XXIII, and they have squelched, silenced and driven from their ranks those dreamers who actually sought significant social transformation.

Now the Church in Brazil is manned by the likes of the Archbishop of Recife, whose latest idea of social activism [March, 2009] was to ex-communicate the mother of a nine-year-old rape victim, who got the child an abortion.

The doctors, too -- even though the child weighed seventy pounds, stood not four feet tall, and was carrying twins that would have killed her.

But all involved in the whole affair were mortal sinners -- except for the serial rapist himself, the child's stepfather, who alone among them was not ex-communicated. The laws he broke were "man's, not God's," said the Archbishop. (Rape is a violation of the sixth commandment. I thought the ten commandments were also God's laws.)

This last got people into the streets. The Catholics for the Right to Decide passed out signs that read: "Catholics have sex for pleasure, use condoms, support sexual diversity, and have abortions!"

No news, of course, for anyone who's visited Brazil.
But "When will the Church hierarchy change?" the signs continued, and that is the question.
Certainly not soon enough for the 20,000 children between the ages of ten and fourteen who did have babies in Brazil last year. All of whom were the result of rape, much of it incestuous; and all, pretty much, born prematurely. Even the ones who lived are unlikely to become rocket scientists. The girls among them will be lucky to escape their child-mothers' fate.

But about them, the Church is strangely silent. The born, with their scabs and their hunger, their diapers and crying, are perhaps less appealing than the unborn, who are quiet, perfect, "sin-free," as the priests tell the people from the pulpit. Not unlike the perfect teddy bear.

"And the tragedy of that," says Beatriz Galli of Inaps, an advocacy group for reproductive rights, "is that now what we are seeing is very young rape victims 'volunteering' to carry the babies. The priests cheer, but what happens a year later to a destitute twelve-year-old with a child?"
The streets are full of them, but the Church isn't in the street these days.


I frequently wonder if the Church actually cares about the fruits of their anti abortion/anti contraception campaign. Who benefits from a ten year old child having a child who is most likely the result of incestuous rape and always the result of legally defined rape. It's certainly not the two children involved.

I posted in an earlier thread that the Recife rape victim, which precipitated this entire discussion, was not an isolated case. It was all too common. I've also written that enforcement without compassion is tyranny. It seems to me our Catholic hierarchy is practicing a form of tyranny, and they are not content with practicing this form of pastoral tyranny from the pulpit, they are demanding it become secular law. Women and girls must carry their pregnancies to term, while the men who are equally responsible for these pregnancies are ignored.

This particular conflict between abortion absolutism and real life situations scream for the addition of common sense and compassion. The only way that can ever happen is for the Church to return to an understanding of life which doesn't place the unborn on a level higher than the born. There is no justifiable reason I can see for making unborn life more important than the life of an innocent child mother. It's this notion of escalating the absolute worth of the unborn over that of the born that I can not agree with in conscience. Catholic moral teaching has never done this traditionally. It used to know that absolutism can cause harm in an imperfect world. Not any more. Not when it comes to sexual issues. Especially not when it comes to women.

It's hard to see how a twelve year old girl can make a reasoned assessment about being a good parent---especially in view of the fact she will most likely be committing to being a good single parent. No first time parent, no matter how old, has a clue about what parenthood really entails until they become a parent. Up until that magic moment, notions of parenting are mostly fantasy. But then maybe that's the whole problem with the hierarchy, they don't seem to have any imagination about what exactly they are demanding from girl mothers. For them the whole moral question ends at birth, but for the mother, the whole moral question is really just beginning. How moral is it to raise a child, born prematurely, on the streets or in an already poor and dysfunctional family? According to the Cardinal Levada and the CDF, Catholics aren't supposed to ask those kinds of questions.

As long as the unborn have an exalted absolute status above any of the born, those sticky moral questions about life after birth will never be taken into the moral equation. That's not just wrong, it borders on heresy. Abortion is however, a powerful political tool, and in Brazil the abortion issue certainly seems to be far more about exercising power than exercising compassion.

For child mothers the issue is not reproductive choice, but enforced, choice less reproductive roulette. The real loser in this moral equation is the unborn child who suddenly finds him or herself born. That's the issue the Church in all it's righteous wisdom refuses to address and why the Recife rape story is not going to go away.


  1. Colleen,

    An excellent commentary that leaves me very sad. I am sad for the situation in Brazil and that the Church has taken an absolutist approach to the serious problems there. Has the much greater variety of theological thought for the last century or so been boiled down to such a heartless philosophy? I pray not. I pray that compassion, mercy and love might make a comeback in our Church.

    As an aside, the author of the original piece mentions that the four popes since John 23 have squelched social transformation. One of those popes was John Paul 1 (Albino Luciani) and I have the impression that he would not have gone down that road or at least would have deviated significantly from it. We'll never know for sure, but from what I have read about him, I think he would have been different. Am I wrong on this?

    Thanks as always for your advocacy of sanity in an insane world!


  2. The picture shown get to the heart of the matter: Racism & Caste consciousness.

    When one see ppl from Brazil - on MTV, Disney, in US tourist destinations....& even on EWTN (The Opus Dei TV Network) does not usually see the more dark skinned natives. Those of mixed African/Mezoamerican blood.

    ....unless it is a fundraiser for some alleged 'missionary work', complete with Sally Struthers (or some similar spokeperson) 'crying for money"'over the plight of the poor:)

    Rather, one typically sees the lighter skinned (if not VERY White/European looking) Brazilians. Be it in a Mardi Gras setting, or in some uber-pious Church setting (dripping with Tradionalism). Even more typically, they are affluent.

    Reality check: Opus Dei runs Latin America. They vigorously maintain a preferential option for the rich.......whilst the poor are relegated to feed off the vast garbage dumps of the nation. Literally.

    Neither these lay ppl nor the Latin American clergy give a damn about the poor - except in some very abstract notion of 'charity'. Which is administered with all the generousity of a clogged eyedropper.

    The Church in general, has very clearly demonstrated its disregard for(and even outright hostility to) the poor of every land. By historically taxing them for living on or in proximity to church lands. By the Peter's Pence; which was originally a direct tax on the common man in Europe. By 'devouring the houses of widows & orhpans' by the demonic scheme of spiritual extortion in the form of the sale of Indulgences. Shall we continue?

    There have been exceptions....VERY rare ones. In the person of genuinely saintly individuals like Francis of Assisi, Don Bosco - and untold numbers of those who TRULY comprehended & lived the Gospel. Quietly & unobtrusively caring for Christ's poor, without regard to religion or race. Simple being Christ to them.

    But those who did so have been largely ignored - except where they can serve as money making leverage for the Vatican. Not however as the penultimate of saints.....and most certainly NOT as the model for clergy!

  3. Colleen, thank you again for telling it like it truly is with charity. I am so deeply saddened to hear of 20,000 children from the ages of 10 to 14 who are raped and giving birth prematurely and there is no condemnation at all for the rapist and a total disregard of charity towards these children and the children they give birth to.

    It is wicked is all I can say now and yes, it is tyranny. This kind of thing has to end and end in a merciful way with the Church openly deploring and ending the enabling of little girls to carry a rapist's child. The Church needs to educate men that raping a child is wrong, but that is not what they are doing. They are encouraging rape. Rape is not an act or will of God to bestow the gift of life - it is an act that destroys life within the very soul of the child who was raped and violated spiritually and physically and psychologically damaged for the rest of her life. It is heresy to say that the "laws he broke were mans." Since when has God said that rape is not a sin against Him. The Archbishop of Recife has not heard of Jesus Christ's teachings to love one another? He has not heard that he is bearing false witness against Jesus Christ by saying that rapist are only breaking man's laws? Since when do supposedly holy and devout followers of Jesus Christ's teachings condone raping of children? Didn't Pope Benedict come out and say he was sorry about the pedophiles raping children, and didn't also JPII say he was sorry? Saying they are sorry, but doing nothing to end this cycle of abuse upon children who are raped, whether by a priest or by the laity, is just pitifully spineless and graceless. As well, to promote economic and secular policies that favor the rich and trample on the poor is anti-Catholic.

    The Archbishop of Recife is a vile, disgusting and ignorant man not worthy to be a priest and he should be excommunicated along with all of his followers who believe that it is ok to rape little children and to force them to bear a child. Wicked, evil and vile people shall not enter into the Kingdom of God. They are forbidden to enter into His Kingdom of Heaven. It would have been better had they not been born at all, for they are children not of God, but children of the devil, for their way is from the father of lies.

    I am so angry and disgusted with the lack of love in this example that the Archbishop of Recife is demonstrating. He is so far from the love of God and ignorant of God's love for all children.

    I am angry about the wicked effects of suffering and death that evil people who think they are righteous and good impose upon the innocent in ignorance and hypocrisy.

    May the good Lord give these wicked one's who are in power a very short lived ride in self-glorification. May the good Lord bless Brazil with the true spirit of charity and mercy for the poor. May the good Lord open the eyes of the blind and free all from their misery and bondage to blind guides such as the Archbishop of Recife, Opus Dei, EWTN, and all the other right wing fundamentalist nut jobs.

  4. dtedac, I don't think you are off base on JPI. The more I've read about him the more I wonder how he ever became Pope. I am not surprised he was found dead after one month.

    Annonymous, I'm of the opinion the recent history of the Church mirrors the history of Spain and Spanish fascism. Opus Dei, and it's many clones, all have roots in fascist Spain. So many attitudes of the hierarchical church seem to stem from the conflict between Spanish anti clerical communism and Franco's fascists. This may also be the big reason Pius XII was silent about Nazi Germany. Franco owed the Nazi's big time for their military support of his regime and the Church owed Franco big time for his support of the Church.

    There doesn't seem to be a Spanish or South American dictator the Vatican doesn't support. Pinochet, Papa DOc Duvalier, and the Marcos in the Phillipines are not accidents. In too many respects Catholicism is involved in the theology of conservative politics, not the evangelization of the message of Jesus's life.

    Butterfly, straight males are never really held accountable for the fruits of their activities. Male accountability apparently stops with conception.

  5. So many times we hear from the fundamentalist of the attitudes in the culture being immoral. Yet the very immorality of rape, and rape of children no less, is not seriously considered nor is their any desire on their part to address this in any depth. But, as I am finding out, they really do not go into depth seriously into any issue. They really do not take the time to intellectually think through issues. They just blame and point their accusatory finger at someone else and go about mumbling their prayers to a god they do not know or care to know in any depth.

  6. "So many attitudes of the hierarchical church seem to stem from the conflict between Spanish anti clerical communism and Franco's fascists. This may also be the big reason Pius XII was silent about Nazi Germany. Franco owed the Nazi's big time for their military support of his regime and the Church owed Franco big time for his support of the Church."

    Colleen, this is quite prescient. While I have never verbalized this as you have, it makes a lot of sense, politically. Connecting dots further, we note the Vatican's cozy relationship with Mussolini's fascism, which was mutually friendly to Franco. As Pacelli was Nuncio to Germany & Secretary of State - we come full circle!

    To yourself & dtedac - I also agree with your assessment of Luciani (JPI). Indeed from reading about him, one wonder why he lasted eve 33 days! He was WAY more liberal (in the most truly Christian & intellectual sense) the John XXIII. As one who cherished the poor & never forgot that he came from poverty, he deeply understood their plight - and the gross incongruity between the Gospel & the actions of Churchmen & the Vatican institution.

    Luciani saw the utter failure of the Church to COMPREHEND the Gospel, & for utter failure to teach it (gently!) by personal example! Much less deeds. Had he been allowed to live, Luciani would have done the necessary 'radical surgery' to set the Church back to the way Christ intended.

    It would seem the conservative elements had a different agenda in mind......and thus he was 'made dead'.

  7. I recall several examples of exalting the pregnancy over the woman in , first in Henry Morton Robinson's "The Cardinal," in which Father Stephen Fermoyle chooses to let his sister Mona die so she has her baby, second, in the film "Pan's Labyrinth," in which the captain clearly doesn't care so much for his pregnant wife as for her baby, and third, when the Pope canonized Gianna Molla, a doctor who refused cancer treatment when pregnant with her fourth child. I recall one commenter saying at the time that the person who raised Molla's four children was the one who deserved canonization. There seems to be a love for the ideal without realizing what it does to real human beings.

  8. Khughes, that scene from the Cardinal was brilliantly done in the movie. I thought it was a poor decision then and I do now, but in a lot of respects, that has also been the most provocative pro life presentation I have ever seen.

    Annonymous, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the connections between Spanish fascism and the Church. I think the twentieth century history of the Church will be all about the ties the Vatican maintained with rightwing fascism and Franko will be a huge part of the story.

    If the Church is to sustain it's viability as a force for spiritual and cultural growth, it has to renounce both it's political and dark masochistic metaphysical baggage from Spanish Catholic fascism.

  9. In Brazil there are 40 rapes of children or teenagers every 10 minutes...9600 a day....

    You're irresponsable when you blame the church,you dont know nothing about whats going on here in Brazil and are only reproducing these bullshit informations.
    The church is the most important force fighting for the dignity of the children and their lives.
    You should wash your mouth before talking about the church....