By John-Henry Westen

RECIFE, Brazil, July 1, 2009 ( – This morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, the metropolitan archbishop of Olinda and Recife. The pope appointed Bishop Fernando Antonio Saburido as his successor. Pro-life activists around the world are very familiar with Archbishop Cardoso for his heroic defense of the unborn despite criticism he received even from Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, the President of Pontifical Academy for Life.

The acceptance of his resignation at this time has raised many questions; however, there is no evidence to indicate that it was undertaken as a punitive measure.  The Vatican announcement merely states that the archbishop's “resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.”  Bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the Pope on the completion of their 75th year, but accepting the resignation is at the discretion of the Pope.  Archbishop Cardoso just turned 76 yesterday.

For his ardent defense of the lives of unborn twins, Archbishop Cardoso has been vilified in the media since February of this year.  The media pounced on the archbishop due to his action in the very hard case of a nine-year-old girl who was raped by her step-father and was carrying twins. 

The priest involved and Archbishop Cardoso himself did everything in their power to work with the family and the child to assist them with their needs and also to save the lives of the twins she was carrying.  An international abortion lobby group was pushing the family to have the girl abort, apparently seeing the case as a golden opportunity to press for legal abortion in the nation.  As a last-ditch effort to save the lives of the unborn twins, after the girl was moved by pro-abortion activists to an unknown location, the archbishop announced that those involved in procuring the abortions would suffer an automatic excommunication.

The international anti-life media jumped on the announcement, portraying the archbishop as heartless and cruel.  At first the archbishop was defended by his confreres in the episcopate locally and also by the Vatican's Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops Cardinal Battista Re.

However, the relentless media attacks and falsifications, coupled with public denunciations from political leaders including Brazil's health minister as well as its President, began to affect even his brother bishops.

The most devastating rejection of Archbishop Cardoso's actions came from the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the pages of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Without ever having consulted his brother Archbishop in Brazil, Archbishop Fisichella launched what has been seen as a scathing attack on Archbishop Cardoso.

Fisichella's Vatican newspaper article implied that Archbishop Cardoso had not been caring enough for the rape victim, that he had “hastily” announced the excommunication and defended the abortionists from excommunication.  Criticism from other bishops around the world followed with two French bishops and a Canadian cardinal chiming in.

When Archbishop Cardoso requested that he be permitted to defend himself in the pages of the Vatican newspaper, and correct factul errors present in Fisichella's article, his request was declined

The world's pro-life movement followed the story closely and were, especially due to this persecution, all the more endeared to Archbishop Cardoso.  Human Life International put those sentiments into reality in April as it presented Archbishop Cardoso with a prestigious award recognizing his valiant defence of life.

The award was presented by Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula, JD, STD, head of HLI's bureau in Rome. spoke with Monsignor Barreiro about his reaction to Archbishop Cardoso's resignation.

“It is regrettable that his resignation has been accepted without an official clarification that defends him against the unjust accusations leveled against him by Archbishop Fisichella in his article of March 15,” said Monsignor Barreiro.  “Nevertheless it would be an act of justice if, even after the retirement of Archbishop Cardoso, that those clarifications would be published for two reasons.

Firstly, “To clarify the confusions created by Archbishop Fisichella with regard to extreme cases. It should be made absolutely clear that under no circumstances is an abortion permitted.” And, secondly, ”A clarification that would underline that Archbishop Cardoso and his archdiocese paid the best pastoral care to the young girl who eventually suffered the abortion.”