Excommunications in Brazil

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March 17, 2009 by D Stack

With the Bristol Palin birth/canceled engagement and the excommunication for the abortion performed on a 9-year old girl in Brazil, condoms, abortion, and abstinence have been in the news lately.

I’m going to break this into two posts. The first one will be of a bit more “religious nature, as we’ll start with the touchiest, abortion. In Brazil, there is a nine-year old girl who was raped by her stepfather. And she was pregnant with twins. The girl weighed about 80 pounds. In Brazil, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. Both these categories were met. The nine-year old’s mother and legal guardian decided to abort the pregnancy.

The local Catholic archbishop’s response was swift – the excommunication of the doctors and the girl’s mother. The Vatican defended the archbishop’s decision, stating that excommunication was automatic and the archbishop was merely declaring it as a fact. Current Catholic doctrine on excommunication  states that the excommunicated are not eligible to receive any of the church’s sacraments, save reconciliation (which is typically to acknowledge the wrongdoing).

I have to say I’m baffled by the actions of the church in this case. I’ve mentioned I’m a Catholic, but I also know there are those who will look at my beliefs and say “no you’re not”. And that’s ok. I believe we humans have wonderful minds and we are capable of moral decisions, of knowing right from wrong. And I do thing abortion is “wrong”. But I really think the best way to avoid it is to avoid circumstances requiring it.

In any case… I have two daughters, ages six and three. And I have a nine-year old niece. And I know if any of them were in a similar situation it would take me under a second to decide on an abortion for them. I’d think it was wrong. But I could not make someone I loved, especially an innocent child, suffer even more.

Do I think that’s wrong? In truth, I do. But I know I would kill to protect those girls. And I would die to protect those girls. A pregnancy at the age of nine? That might kill them? And would certainly do incredible amounts of trauma to them? We’re talking “real” trauma. Not “hey I’m putting on a little weight” trauma, but the sort of trauma that ruins lives, that makes mature adult relationships later in life a difficult dream. So if I could do something to alleviate that, yes, of course I would. Whether it is wrong or right.

So the church says excommunication is automatic in such cases. Fair enough. As everyone says, the Catholic Church is not a democracy. But… It is supposed to be an  organization based around love. And compassion. Jesus Christ was filled with compassion. Especially for sinners. This was an opportunity to be nurturing, to try to help that poor girl and herb mother. Or at the very least, to say nothing at all. To let them suffer in peace. I’m certain the doctors and the girl’s mother were not doing a little celebratory dance after the abortion.

Why do I think compassion was the proper response? Based on what Jesus said in the Bible. He’s at a well. He runs into a Samaritan woman who is getting some water. Jesus mentions to her that he is the water of eternal life – whoever drinks his water will never be thirsty. So she says “give me some of this water” – a pretty reasonable request if you ask me. And Jesus tells her “go get your husband”. She says he doesn’t have one. He agrees, giving her a count of the husbands she has had and the guy she’s living with isn’t her husband. What I see is Jesus delivering his message to someone that his church would refuse to give communion to. [NAB John 4]

Like I indicated earlier, what bothers me isn’t so much the excommunication (though that bugs me too), but the whole way it was delivered drives me batty. I’m not seeing an ounce of compassion. I’m seeing an organization that saw an opportunity to make an example out of someone.

In the church’s defense, this attitude is not, thankfully, universal. For example in the March 15 International Herald Tribune there is an article quoting Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

“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,” Fisichella wrote.

The doctors, Fisichella noted, had said the child’s life was in danger if the pregnancy continued.

“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.

That’s the sort of nuance that should have been presented from the start – and far more publicly. Fisichella’s statement, as  far as I can tell, seem to be in the minority. And that is a shame.

[Less religion and more politics in next post I promise.]

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One thought on “Excommunications in Brazil

  1. […] this contrasts sharply with the excommunications in Brazil, which I covered in an earlier posting. If there ever was a group in need of mercy and compassion it is those who performed the abortions […]

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