On the issue of whether or not to excommunicate those who helped a 9-year-old rape survivor have an abortion in order to preserve her life, there appears to be dissent in the Catholic ranks:
An influential prelate said Brazilian doctors didn’t deserve excommunication for aborting the twin fetuses of a 9-year-old child who was allegedly raped by her stepfather because the doctors were saving her life.
The statement by Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican newspaper Sunday was highly unusual because church law mandates automatic excommunication for abortion. Fisichella, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, also upheld the church’s ban on abortion and any implications of his criticism of excommunicating the doctors and the girl’s mother weren’t clear.
“How should one act in these cases? An arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself,” Fisichella wrote, urging respect for the inner “conflict” that the Catholic doctors must have suffered before deciding on the abortion.
Earlier this month, the archbishop of Recife, where the child and her family lives, made a public announcement about the excommunication, which is the church’s most severe penalty. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a top Vatican official, has supported the archbishop.
But Fisichella criticized the archbishop’s public denunciation, writing that the girl “should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction.”
Fisichella stressed that abortion is always “bad.” But he said the quick proclamation of excommunication “unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy.”
The Vatican teaches that anyone performing or helping someone to have an abortion is automatically excommunicated from the church, and the Vatican prelate underlined that abortion is “always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act.”
“There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically,” Fisichella wrote.
Writing as if he were addressing the girl, Fisichella said: “There are others who merit excommunication and our pardon, not those who have allowed you to live and have helped you to regain hope and trust.”
Good on him.
It’s worth emphasizing that the Catholic view of contraception and abortion isn’t nearly as hard-and-fast as Church higher-ups would often like to portray. There is debate and dissent even amongst Church leadership, and the Church’s position on reproductive rights has changed pretty substantially over the centuries. I don’t think the Church as a whole will be following Fisichella’s example any time soon, but it is refreshing and heartening to see that someone in the Church leadership is embracing a moral ideology that leaves room for mercy and kindness, at least toward the most vulnerable.
Of course, I don’t doubt that Fisichella would oppose abortion rights for a less sympathetic girl or woman, but sometimes you take what you can get.