Brazil's Bishops Beleaguered But Blessed

March 20, 2009 09:00 AM

The past few days have given all of us a bird's eye view of what it means to be a Catholic bishop who comprehends the meaning of the word sin and is not afraid to punish those who offend God by acts of murder. The case in question involves a nine-year-old girl who, according to media reports, was repeatedly raped by her stepfather. He apparently began sexually assaulting her when she was three years of age.

Ghastly seems too delicate a word for such evil acts. And yet, when she was diagnosed as being four months pregnant, and the doctors explained to her mother that she was carrying twins, the immediate decision in the case was to abort the babies. This is where Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho became involved. Upon hearing of the case, and after a thorough investigation of the matter, he announced the excommunication of the doctor who performed the abortion on the nine-year-old girl, as well as the family members who made the decision to carry out the procedure.

The leadership of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issued a statement of support for Cardoso Sobrinho.

"The Church, in fidelity to the Gospel, positions itself always in favor of life, in an unequivocal condemnation of all violence done against the dignity of the human person," they wrote, adding that "in the face of the complexity of the case, we lament that has not been faced with serenity, tranquility, and the necessary time that the situation demanded.  Furthermore, we do not agree with the final outcome of eliminating the life of defenseless human beings."

Not long thereafter, one Vatican leader came out in support of Archbishop Sobrinho's decision. That was Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. The media reported regarding Cardinal Re's comments:

"It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

A day later, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life announced that he did not agree with Archbishop Sobrinho's action. Archbishop Rino Fisichella wrote a commentary for the newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

Archbishop Fisichella lamented the precipitous condemnation in such a morally delicate case. Referring to the excommunication "latae sententiae" [automatically incurred at the moment of the act], he said that "such urgency and publicity was not necessary."
What is most needed at this time, he explained, "is the sign of a testimony of closeness with the one suffering, an act of mercy that, even while firmly maintaining the principle, is able to look beyond the juridical sphere."
It is true that the girl "carried within her innocent lives like her own, though the fruit of violence, and they have been done away with; however, this is not enough to pass a judgment that weighs as a condemnation," he added.

However, since those events of early this week, we have learned two things. The first is that the abortion, at least according to two medical authorities was uncalled for in the first place. LifeSite News interviewed Dr. Paul Byrne, a world-renowned neonatologist.

Byrne told LSN that it is certainly medically possible for a young girl safely to carry a pregnancy of twins to term. He acknowledged that the circumstances are unusual, but said that the problem of giving birth with an undeveloped pelvic structure could be safely avoided by a caesarean section.
Dr. Byrne cited the case of Lina Medina, a Peruvian girl from the Andean village of Ticrapo who made medical history when she gave birth to a boy by caesarean section in May 1939 at the age of five years, seven months and 21 days.
But he emphasized that no matter what the situation in the case, "abortion is not the solution." The girl, he said, "was sexually abused" and needed treatment. "Someone should have tried to help this girl."

And now, Fr. Berardo Graz, a Brazilian priest and medical ethics expert, has denounced the statements by Archbishop Fisichella.

Fr. Berardo Graz of the Diocese of Guarulhos has issued a statement asserting that "if Msgr. Fisichella had received more correct and detailed information about what happened in the case he would not have written what he wrote." Graz is on the board of directors of Stela Maris Hospital in Sao Paulo, and was trained as a physician in Italy.

Through all this controversy, however, the Brazilian bishops have kept their wits about them and simply moved forward, knowing that there is never a reason to execute an innocent human being and that everything should have been done to protect this very young mother and her two babies. They broke their silence on March 18, responding to Archbishop Fisichella. That statement reads in part,

1. The fact [the rape of the little girl] did not happen in Recife, as the article states, but in the city of Alagoinha (Diocese of Pesqueira).

2. All of us – beginning with the parish priest of Alagoinha (undersigned) – treated the pregnant girl and her family with all charity and tenderness. The Parish priest, making use of his pastoral solicitude, when aware of the news in his residence, immediately went to the house of the family, in which he met the girl and lent her his support and presence, before the grave and difficult situation in which the girl found herself. And this attitude continued every day, from Alagoinha to Recife, where the sad event of the abortion of the two innocent [babies] took place. Therefore, it is quite evident and unequivocal that nobody thought in "excommunication" in the first place. We used all means at our disposal to avoid the abortion and thus save all THREE lives. The Parish priest personally joined the local Children's Council in all efforts which sought the welfare of the child and of her two children. In the hospital, in daily visits, he displayed attitudes of care and attention which made clear both to the child and to her mother that they were not alone, but that the Church, represented by the local Parish priest, assured them of the necessary assistance and of the certainty that all would be done for the welfare of the girl and to save her two children.

3. After the girl was transferred to a hospital of the city of Recife, we tried to use all legal means to avoid the abortion. The Church never displayed any omission in the hospital. The girl's parish priest made daily visits to the hospital, traveling from the city which is 230 km [140 mi] away from Recife, making every effort so that both the child and the mother felt the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who seeks the sheep who need most attention. Therefore, the case was treated with all due care by the Church, and not 'sbrigativamente' [summarily], as the article says.

4. We do not agree [with Archbishop Fisichella] that the "decision is hard... for the moral law itself". Our Holy Church continues to proclaim that the moral law is exceedingly clear: it is never licit to eliminate the life of an innocent person to save another life. The objective facts are these: there are doctors who explicitly declare that they perform and will continue to perform abortions, while others declare with the same firmness that they will never perform abortions. Here is the declaration written and signed by a Brazilian Catholic physician: "...As an obstetrician for 50 years, graduated in the National Medical School of the University of Brazil, and former chief of Obstetrics in the Hospital of Andarai [Rio de Janeiro], in which I served for 35 years until I retired in order to dedicate myself to the Diaconate, and having delivered 4,524 babies, many from juvenile [mothers], I never had to resort to an abortion to 'save lives', as well as all my colleagues, sincere and honest in their profession and faithful to their Hippocratic oath. ..."

The statement, which is presented in full on the LifeSite News web site is signed by five priests and diocesan officials intimately involved in the case. In fact, I would encourage anyone who is concerned about the apparent discrepancies reported in the media regarding what some view as soft peddling on the part of at least one Vatican official, to read the official statement from the diocese where this occurred in Brazil.

No wonder faithful Catholics get confused, frequently feel betrayed and then wonder what shoe will drop next! Well, that's why we put our faith in God, not man. And it is also why… 

Our hats are off to the Catholic leaders in Brazil for standing true to the faith and the Magisterium of the Church and not buckling under pressure. Praise God for each of them!

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