Vatican criticizes excommunication

Finally the Vatican took a sensible stance on the case of the 9-year-old girl who had an abortion done in Recife, Brazil, in the beginning of March. It’s not an official statement – but then again, I suppose it’s the closest they’ll get to an offcial statement on such a polemic issue. 

Archbishop Rino Fisichellam, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, said in an article at the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that the girls’ life was a priority. 

The girl, who was 15 weeks pregnant, acused her spetfather of abusing her. Doctors argued her life was in danger and performed a legal abortion, loudly opposed by the local archbishop. José Cardoso Sobrinho excommunicated the entire medical crew and the girls mother soon after.

But, in the opinion of Mr Fisichellam, "Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the church should be expert and masters in proclaiming".  

In the article, published on Sunday, he says the doctors did not deserve to be excommunicated. He argued for a sense of "mercy" in such cases. "How should one act in these cases? An arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself", he wrote.

He went on to say the excommunication "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy". 

Unusual as it is – since the chuch law makes excomunication an automatic penalty for anyone who commits abortion – the article came at a good time. The decision of the archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho had sparked an outcry in Brazil. President Lula da Silva, himself a devoted catholic, said: "in this case, medicine is more correct than the church".

The fact is, even if excommunication is mandatory according to church laws, the archbishop of Recife should have kept his nose out of this matter.

Due to the influence of the catholic church, abortion is still illegal in Brazil. Even so, about 1 million abortions are made every year in clandestine clinics, putting several lives in danger. Abortion is only allowed when a woman is raped, or when there’s a health risk – and both were true in this case.   

But by violently opposing the procedure, the archbishop made clear that in Brazil, as in many South American countries where the church still has huge influence, it often advocates outdated and cruel policies. A way of keeping its power is to dictate the country’s laws in spite of serious health issues. 

To many European countries, this episode might resemble a distant deja vu from the Middle Ages. But if the case had happened in Spain, Portugal, or even in the Italy of today, I have the feeling any archbishop would think twice before vociferating against such a life-saving and righteous medical operation.