Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Story The Vatican Won't Let Die--The Brazilian Rape Case

Cardinal Levada and the CDF seem unable to let some controversies fade off into oblivion. Me thinks he doth protest too loud.

Brazil rape victim flap leads to new Vatican condemnation
Jul. 13, 2009 By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY Commenting on the controversial case of a 9-year-old Brazilian rape victim who underwent an abortion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the concern the church needs to show the girl does not change the fact that abortion is wrong.

In declaring that the doctors and others who were involved in helping the girl procure an abortion automatically incurred excommunication, the church does not intend to deny the girl mercy and understanding, said the statement published in the July 11 edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The penalty of excommunication "places in evidence the gravity of the crime committed (and) the irreparable damage caused to the innocent who was killed, to the parents and to all of society," the statement said. (Again there is no mention of the rapist step father, the gravity of his crime, and the damage he caused. Total silence on the causal agent.)

In early March doctors at a hospital in Recife performed an abortion on the girl, who was pregnant with twins, weighed a little more than 66 pounds and reportedly had been raped repeatedly by her stepfather from the time she was 6 years old. Abortion in Brazil is illegal except in cases of rape or if the mother's life is in danger.

Interviewed by the media after the abortion, then-Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife noted that abortion always was a sin and that, according to canon law, anyone participating in the abortion -- including the girl's mother and her doctors -- would automatically incur excommunication.

In the midst of expressions of outrage from around the world over what appeared to be a lack of pastoral concern and compassion for the girl, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life said the church's first reaction should have been to minister to the girl.

The girl "should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the academy.

The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife then issued a statement saying, "All of us ... treated the pregnant girl and her family with extreme charity and tenderness. ... All efforts were focused on saving all three lives." (With the intent to let the nine year old die if that was necessary to save the twin fetuses.)

The doctrinal congregation said the statements from church leaders led to some confusion about the position of the church, "taking into account the dramatic situation of the child -- who, it turns out -- was accompanied with pastoral delicacy by the then-archbishop."

"In this regard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirms that the doctrine of the church on procured abortion has not and cannot change," the statement said.

To deliberately abort a fetus is to kill an innocent human being, it said.
"Regarding procured abortions in certain difficult and complex situations," the doctrinal congregation said that "the clear and precise teaching" of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), remains valid.

The statement quoted the encyclical: "It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." (And yet these are some of the exact reasons used to justify the taking of born life. In this case the nine year old would have been justified in taking her step father's life in her own self defense.)

The doctrinal congregation said that performing an abortion to save a mother's life is different from carrying out a medical procedure that may have the side effect of causing a miscarriage as long as the death of the fetus was not the goal of the intervention. (This is a nice attempt to lessen the absolutist position on abortion and a women's right to life, but it's basically sophistry. The intent of her doctors was to save this girl's life. Is she to die because she didn't have cancer or some other life threatening illness in which the intervention would result in aborted fetuses as a side effect?)


I find it very interesting that the Vatican, at least the CDF, seems incapable of letting this story drop. They really should let this one fade away because it does not serve to help their absolutest position on abortion. If anything, every time they drag it back into the spot light they look less compassionate and more doctrinaire and authoritarian. It's totally about the letter of the doctrine at the expense of the spirit of the doctrine. Maybe it's the Holy Spirit doesn't want this story to fade away.

Archbishop Fisichella seems to be the only prelate that actually has his pulse on the outrage this story caused amongst lay Catholics, especially lay Catholics with children. I have a daughter and yet I can't begin to imagine how horrendous the mother of this girl must have felt. There is no way I would have let my daughter, who was also small at nine, die having twins. Especially under these circumstances.

I believe in respect for life, but I don't know that I believe in respect for life to the extent that an innocent nine year old must literally be sacrificed on the altar of pregnancy, especially this kind of pregnancy. This kind of pregnancy is very difficult to see as some sort of 'gift from God' when it is in fact, the consequence of repeated forced rape. I suspect the nature of the pregnancy is the exact reason the father is never mentioned by those in authority who support the excommunications. It's difficult to make a cogent case for pregnancy being a 'gift from God' under these particular circumstances. I guess we're not supposed to notice they ignore the circumstances of the pregnancy in favor of condemning the medical decision makers and the girl's mother. I'm waiting for the time when we can ignore the circumstances which lead to war in favor of absolute non violence. I tend to think that will be a very long wait.

As long as the CDF continues to bring this case to public attention, I will continue to give it attention. I'm sure had the mother decided to let this pregnancy go forward and place the lives of twin fetuses ahead of her own raped daughter the Church in it's 'compassion' would have given the nine year old a heck of a funeral and put her on the fast track to sainthood. She would have become the ultimate model for how all women and girls should sacrifice themselves on the altar of pregnancy. Abraham wasn't asked to sacrifice himself for the sake of Israel, he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. How come women get the exact opposite message when it comes to pregnancy?
The thing is, millions of women have sacrificed themselves on the altar of pregnancy and have for millenia. But it's one thing for an adult woman to choose to let "nature run it's course". It's an entirely different thing to force that on a nine year old. Especially a nine year old whose reproductive tract was never given a chance at a 'natural' course.

There's something truly galling about being 'taught' that in the interests of saving a woman from cancer, it's OK that a miscarriage might result from the radiation treatments because the intent wasn't the miscarriage, but when the intent is saving the life of a nine year old through direct therapeutic abortion, the exact same outcome is inherently evil. That's a form of hair splitting which only doctrinaire prelates more concerned with the doctrine than the people the doctrine actually effects, could come up with. It's paradoxical Catholicism at it's best. Sort of like asking Catholics to place the life of the unborn on a higher level than existing life, which of course, this situation clearly demonstrates we are to do. Where is this preferential option for the unborn found in the Bible?

And finally, where is it found in the Bible that an action taken to save a life is more intrinsically evil than violently raping that life? Enquiring minds want to know.


  1. It is interesting that it keeps coming up, but it's not surprising.

    These repeated reaffirmations of the magisterium's position may continue to make them look "doctrinaire" and "authoritarian," but that's quite okay with their intended audience, the simple faithful who will never change their minds about anything, and who sometimes need these kinds of reassurances, especially whenever someone in the hierarchy (like Archbishop Fisichella, in this case) say things that aren't doctrinaire or authoritarian.

    I find that a lot of puzzling Vatican statements make a lot more sense when you consider who they are really aimed at.

    Years ago, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in a speech in Toronto, "The church's main job is the care of the faith of the simple. A truly reverential awe should arise from this which becomes an internal rule of thumb for every theologian." Of course, by "church" he means the ordained hierarchy. I think it says a lot about where his priorities lie, and how he understands the role of the CDF.

  2. OMG, not this story again, and the same drum beat which never ever discusses the raping of this innocent child. Levada shows no mercy but desires sacrifice.

    Jesus says: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

    That says it all to me.

  3. PrickliestPear, you have a very good take. Benedict also said something very similar when he silenced Fr. Kung. Along the lines that the simple people must be protected from theologians.

    Butterfly, apparently the CDF thinks the simple people desire sacrifice--especially when it comes to abortion.

  4. People should desire the truth, not lies. The CDF errs in its judgments about and for the simple people. It is the CDF that desires suffering over mercy in direct contradiction to Jesus' desires. His message of mercy is lost by Levada's incessant desire to promote suffering rather than mercy as a Church teaching. Excommunication is not charitable nor does it contain any mercy. The Church demonstrates in this case of the little nine year old girl who got pregnant by an evil act that it has no charity or mercy for this little girl and her mother. It demonstrates injustice as opposed to justice. It supports rape is really what it demonstrates.

    If there is to be a true and honorable care of the faith of the simple, care for Jesus' desires should be the "reverential awe" ..that.. "should arise" and be "an internal rule of thumb for every theologian."

  5. This is one more very good example of what I have said all along, cynically at first, but now with the utmost conviction:

    If the Vatican (CDF) says it is right and good - odds are it isnt.

    If the Vatican (CDF) says it is bad and wrong - it probably isnt.

    Sadly, the Vatican is a good barometer for judging appropriateness, simply do the opposite of what they say we should do, and odds are that will be the correct choice.

    Cynical? I would be if there wasnt so much truth in these statements.