In an article published in March in the Vatican newspaper, Archishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, spoke about the case of a young Brazilian girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather, and was expecting twins. In early March, an abortion was performed on the girl, who is just over 52 inches tall and weighs 79 pounds.
The case drew even more controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife excommunicated the mother and all the members of the medical team, generating criticisms against the Church in Brazil.
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."
He stated that Archbishop Sobrinho's "hasty" reaction has caused resentment and has undermined the credibility of the Church's teaching, "which in the eyes of many seems insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking in mercy."
The "clarification" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in the July 11 Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano, answers "a number of letters have been sent to the Holy See, some of them from prominent figures in political and ecclesiastical life, reporting the confusion that has been created in various countries, above all in Latin America."
The congregation affirms "that the Church's teaching on procured abortion has not changed, nor can it change." It noted the doctrine is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2270-2273).
The Vatican document affirmed that in the March article "the doctrine of the Church was presented, but bearing in mind the dramatic situation of the above mentioned girl, who -- as was able to be shown afterward -- had been accompanied with all pastoral delicacy, in particular by the archbishop of Olinda and Recife at the time, His Excellency Monsignor José Cardoso Sobrinho."
Benedict XVI accepted the resignation for reasons of age of Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho, 76, on July 1.
The text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is led by Cardinal William Levada, did not address specific details of the Brazilian case, but did cite various texts of the magisterium illustrating the Church's position on abortion.
"In regard to procured abortion in certain difficult and complex situations," the text continued, "the clear and precise teaching of Pope John Paul II is valid: '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' ("Evangelium Vitae," No. 58)."
Regarding "specific medical treatments that have the purpose of preserving the health of the mother," the "clarification" noted that "it is necessary to clearly distinguish between two different cases: On the one hand there is the intervention that directly brings about the death of the fetus, sometimes inappropriately called a 'therapeutic abortion,' which can never be legitimate inasmuch as it is the indirect killing of an innocent human being; on the other hand, there is the intervention that is not abortive in itself that can have the death of the child as a collateral consequence."
The text concluded with a consideration of the responsibility of the health care workers. It quoted Pope John Paul's words in "Evangelium Vitae" which called those in the medical profession to be "guardians and servants of human life."
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