03 July, 2009

"Rome has spoken, but the matter is unfinished."

You may have heard some time ago of José Cardoso Sobrinho, a Brazilian bishop who declared that the doctors who performed an abortion on a young girl who had been impregnated by her father were excommunicated. Her mother was also declared excommunicate. You may have heard also that the bishop declared the girl excommunicate as well, but this appears to be false.

On 15 March, L'Osservatore Romano, a Vatican newspaper, published an article by Archbishop Rino Fisichella that gave a harsh assessment of Sobrinho's actions. Fisichella is not easily dismissed as a mush on the matter of abortion, euthanasia, or other aspects of human life; he is the director of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and his article affirms several times the Church's teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion. He writes, (my translation)

In the first place, Carmen should have been defended, embraced, caressed with sweetness so that she would feel that we all stood by her; all of us, without any distinction. Before thinking of an excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and to bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the Church ought to be experts at announcing and teaching. Unfortunately, it has not been like this, and it affects the credibility of our teaching that appears in the eyes of many to be insensitive, incomprehensible, and without mercy. It is true that Carmen carried within herself other innocent lives like her own, even if they were the fruit of violence, and these lives have been suppressed. Nevertheless, this is not enough to pass a judgment that weighs like a axe.
This pronouncement of the importance of humanity, coupled with a public denunciation of a bishop, may sound wonderful to many, especially coming from a Vatican newspaper.

However, there are two problems with the article. One is its tone, florid in reference to the girl and furious in reference to the Archbishop. It sounds more like the passionate rantings of a teenager than the carefully weighed thoughts of a senior cleric.

A more serious problem is that the premises of its argument are false. The archdiocese of Olinda and Recife published on its webpage a refutation of several details. Some excerpts (again, my translation):
1. The rape did not occur in Recife, as the article claims, but in the city of Alagoinha, in the diocese of Pesquiera. Rather, the abortion took place in Recife.

2. All of us—starting with the parish priest of Alagoinha, who is among the signatories—remained close to the pregnant girl and to her family with great love and affection. (The word used is actually carità, which is not quite the same as "love", but more like charity, although not that either.) When the news [of her pregnancy] reached the parish priest at his house, he acted according to his pastoral calling, and went immediately to the family's house, where he met the girl to give her support and company, given the grave and difficult situation in which she found herself. This attention continued for each of the following days, both at Alagoinha and in Recife, where the sad conclusion of the abortion of the two innocents transpired. In the meantime, it was evident and undeniable that no one thought in the first place of "excommunication". …In every initiative taken on behalf of the girl and her children, the parish priest went in person to the city's protective Council [? "Consiglio tutelare"]. Both at the hospital and in his daily visits he gave evidence of an affection and attention that made both the girl and her mother understand that they were not alone, but that the Church, represented there by the parish priest, assured them any necessary assistance and the certainty that everything would have been done for the girl's good and to save the two children.

3. …The parish priest visited the hospital every day, leaving his city that lies 230 kilometers from Recife, without sparing any effort, so that both the girl and her mother would feel the presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who goes to find the sheep who most need his help.
…and so forth.

The archdiocese of Olinda and Recife has tried, without success, to have L'Osservatore Romano publish their reply. There has been no attempt to correct the original article, and the archdiocese is now threatening canonical proceedings against Archbishop Fisichella.

One half-imagines that someone described the situation badly to Archbishop Fisichella, got him to agree that, based on this false information, the Archdiocese had acted badly, then asked him to write a quick article based on this bad information. Rather than dig down to find the truth, L'Osservatore Romano is content with appearances only.

I say this not only because of this story, but some others I have read lately. L'Osservatore Romano does seem to be following a pattern of ignorance of many important facts that contradict the story they'd like to publish, at least on stories related to modern controversies on unborn human life. One need only think of some recent articles on the leaders of certain nations, who have acted as if a human life that is either microscopic or within the womb does not count as a human life at all and deserves no legal protection whatsoever, so they encourage and subsidize its elimination.

Read the story at Sandro Magister's www.chiesa. English version here.

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