Commentary by Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, President, Human Life International

FRONT ROYAL, VA, March 27, 2009 (HLI) – It is no secret that pro-lifers over the years have been greatly burdened by the general lack of support by many of the members of our clergy on life issues, but until now, we have been able to rely on the various Vatican offices for a clear, consistent and correct defense of life. A statement made two weeks ago by an official of the Vatican about an abortion case in Brazil, however, has raised more than a few eyebrows, and is causing grave concern for its potential impact on the Church’s ability to defend life around the world. I am asking your prayers that the Holy See will clarify and correct this situation right away before further damage is done.

The incident in question involves – unbelievably – the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who issued a statement on March 15th criticizing a bishop in Brazil for properly declaring to be excommunicated the doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old girl who was pregnant from rape. The girl was pregnant with twins so the doctors aborted two babies. Despite her young age, she was not in any serious danger (according to the hospital), nor were the two babies she was carrying in any danger. Even if she would have been in danger, the abortion would have been immoral because the direct killing of the innocent never is allowed. It goes without saying that the Church condemns unequivocally the incestuous act committed against this young girl; however, the issue of excommunication of the perpetrators of the abortion stands on its own and deserves applause, not criticism by other prelates. Unfortunately, Archbishop Fisichella is not the only bishop to publicly criticize the decision of the Brazilian bishop in applying church law.

The innocent little girl, thus, became the center of a perfect storm created by the abortion industry which capitalized on her victimization to promote abortion in Brazil where it is currently illegal. Unfortunately, Abp. Fisichella’s intervention gave the impression of a quasi-doctrinal statement and played right into the hands of the abortion promoters by seeming to give permission for abortion in such a “hard case” scenario. Archbishop Fisichella was not condoning these abortions per se, but due to some unfortunate choices of words in his article, and predictably, on the very day that Abp. Fisichella issued his statement, the Associated Press picked it up and titled their own article, “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old.” The world is indeed watching and listening to what comes out of the Vatican because of the Holy See’s immense moral and spiritual authority; hence the responsibility to be loyal without fault when speaking in the name of the Catholic Church.

I applaud most of all the handling of this case by the local diocese in Brazil and pray that all bishops may take an example from this picture perfect handling of a difficult pastoral situation. Credit needs to go to Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho and several priests of his diocese for providing generous pastoral care to the family during this terrible crisis. Indeed, when the girl was transferred to a hospital 140 miles away from the parish, her priest travelled that distance every day to visit her and to assure the family that the Church would provide every possible care for the welfare of the three vulnerable children.

The great irony in all this is that while we get little or no support from Church officials to correct bishops who are negligent in their duty to guard the faith and the flock, in this case, the local bishop did exactly the right thing in issuing this excommunication edict and he was slapped down by a Vatican official!

The appearance of a Vatican compromise on this issue comes at the worst possible time in the cultural and political situation of Latin America. This Catholic continent is especially the target of attack by the aggressive forces of the culture of death, so the last thing we need is for the Church to look weak or divided about our teachings or our resolve to fight the purveyors of death to our brothers and sisters there. The Catholic Church, and her divine authority, is in many places the only shield that the unborn have to keep the abortionists’ instruments of death from them. Let us pray that the Vatican will rectify this error and fortify that shield without delay. The unborn children of Brazil as well as all other parts of the world are counting on us!