Part I –
Part II –

By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, Latin America Correspondent

RECIFE, BRAZIL, March 25, 2009 ( – Archbishop Cardoso of Recife, after days of attempting to save the life of two unborn children, the offspring of a child tragically impregnated at the age of nine, said he felt “much anguish” at the news of their deaths.

The case was widely known in Brazil, having been reported by the major newspapers since February 27. On March 3, the day before the abortions, Cardoso announced the excommunication of the doctors and anyone else involved in the procedure. He was careful to specify that the girl herself was not excommunicated, due to her lack of control over the situation.

Cardoso would later clarify that excommunication for participation in direct abortion is automatic under the canon law of the Catholic Church, and so his statement was simply the observance of a fact that he felt obliged in conscience to announce.

“I want to say that I have a clear conscience,” the Archbishop told the Brazilian magazine Veja several days later. “I fulfilled my obligation. I could not foresee that reaction at the national and international level, but I would feel remorse if I had remained in silence. Humanly speaking, it is much more comfortable to cross one’s arms and close one’s eyes. I am at peace.”

“I hope that the Catholic faithful become conscious of the seriousness of abortion. We know that in the entire world 50 million abortions occur every year. In Brazil, there are one million every year. I want to remember what happened in the Second World War. Hitler, that dictator, wanted to eliminate the Jewish people and they say he managed to kill six million Jews. We cannot forget that crime.”

“Today, I ask: why are we going to stay in silence when 50 million abortions are happening in the world? I call that the silent holocaust. And we, the Christians, cannot remain silent.”

Although Cardoso received a letter of praise from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, and was initially supported by his fellow bishops, his actions provoked a major backlash within Brazil, where the public had been led to believe that the abortions were necessary to save the girl’s life, a notion that the media had uncritically repeated throughout its coverage.

The doctors involved in the abortion expressed open contempt for the Archbishop’s declaration. “Thanks be to God, I’m among those who were excommunicated,” said Fatima Maia, a self-described “Catholic” who stated that she “would do it all again,” and that “CISAM does it and will continue to do it, we are have been prepared, qualified and with references for that type of treatment for 16 years.”

The managing physician at CISAM, Sergio Cabral, who reportedly helped with the abortion, said he had no conscience problems. “I’m fulfilling a function for the poor people of Pernambuco,” he claimed.

Grupo Curumim, the internationally-financed pro-abortion feminist group that had helped to convince the mother of the girl to consent to the abortion, also chimed in. Repeating the false claim that the child’s life had been in danger, Coordinator Paula Viana said that “it is frightening to think that the life of a child is worth less than the thinking of a religious fundamentalist.”

The Brazilian President Luiz Lula, an open advocate of the legalization of abortion, joined in the chorus of denunciation, along with his pro-abortion health minister Jose Gomes Temporao, and several members of Brazil’s national Congress.

“As a Christian and a Catholic, I profoundly regret that a bishop of the Catholic Church behaves in a conservative way like that. It isn’t possible for a child raped by a stepfather to have that child, because there is a risk to her life,” Lula told the media.

The Brazilian press, which is generally regarded as socially liberal and sympathetic to abortion, reported on denunciations from as far away as Italy, while virtually ignoring those who supported the Archbishop.

In the days that followed, the leadership of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) began to retreat in the face of criticism. After statements supporting the Archbishop were made initially, the Secretary General of the CNBB, Dimas Lara Barbosa, said that the excommunication did not apply to the mother because she acted under pressure, and was trying to save her child’s life. Regarding the doctors, Barbosa said that “we don’t have the means to say which doctor is excommunicated and which isn’t. It depends on the degree of understanding of each one.”

However, Barbosa went further, and implied that somehow Cardoso had created a “distraction” by announcing the excommunication. “According to him [Barbosa], the consequence of the excommunication of the doctors involved changed the focus of the situation and caused controversy within society,” reported Agencia Brasil, quoting Barbosa as saying that “that very repugnant aspect of the crime that was perpetrated was diluted in the face of the story of the excommunication.”

However, the response by Archbishop Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Academy of Life, represented the most devastating rejection of Archbishop Cardoso’s actions.

Using language that echoes the rhetoric of pro-abortion organizations, Fisichella blasted Cardoso in L’Osservatore Romano on March 15, defending the physicians who had carried out the abortion, denying that they deserved excommunicated from the Church, and denouncing Cardoso for having acted “hastily”.

Seeming to imply that somehow an offense had been committed against the pregnant nine year old, Fisichella entitled his article, “On the Side of the Brazilian Child”, and wrote that “Carmen should have been in the first place defended, hugged, sweetly caressed to make her feel that we are all with her, all, without any distinction.”

“Before considering the excommunication it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life and return it to a level of humanity of which men of the Church should be expert preachers and teachers,” he continued. “It wasn’t that way, and, unfortunately, affected the credibility of our teaching that appears to the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible, and merciless”

The girl whose twins had been aborted, “represents a history of daily violence and has made it to the pages of newspapers only because the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife has hastily announced the excommunication for the doctors that have helped her to interrupt the pregnancy,” Fisichella wrote, using the abortion industry’s euphemism for abortion. However, the story had been prominently reported in the Brazilian media for over a week before the excommunication was announced.

The Archbishop also made the assertion, common among pro-abortion organizations, that the abortion was “A difficult decision for the doctor and for the moral law itself. Choices like this, even if they are of a different classification, are faced daily in the emergency room and the conscience of the doctor finds itself alone in the act of having to decide the best thing to do. No one, however, arrives at a decision of this type with nonchalance; it is unjust and offensive even to consider it.”

He also repeated the claim that the abortion was necessary to save the child’s life, stating that “The doctor carries within himself his history and his experience; a choice like that to have to save a life, knowing that it is putting a second life at serious risk, is never experienced with ease.”

While acknowledging that the law automatically excommunicates those who are involved in direct abortions, Fisichella concluded by stating his opinion that the doctors and others who were involved in the abortion did not “deserve” excommunication.

Addressing the girl, Fisichella wrote that “Others deserve excommunication and our pardon, not those who have permitted you to live and who will help you to recover hope and trust, in spite of the presence of evil and the wickedness of many.”

Archbishop’s Fisichella’s article made headlines in Brazil, and around the world. The Associated Press announced that “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old” and the Washington Post’s headline was similar: “Vatican Official Defends Child’s Abortion.”

Fr. Luiz Carlos Lodi da Cruz, President of Anapolis Pro-Life in Anapolis, Brazil, told LifeSiteNews that “the article by Msgr. Fisichella in L’Osservatore Romano did incalculable harm to the pro-life cause,” and added that “the Catholic Chuch in Brazil has never passed through a persecution of this level.”

Lodi has written a letter to Archbishop Fisichella, calling Archbishop Cardoso a hero, and asking Fisichella to “clarify your position regarding the abortion carried out on the poor child.”

“This case is already being used by the abortionists to promote the legalization of abortion in Brazil. It is necessary to avoid any appearance of acceptance on the part of the authority of the Church,” wrote Lodi.

Fisichella has reportedly received complaints from other pro-life organizations and individuals. However, he has thus far refused to retract his statements.

Despite being abandoned by many in the hierarchy, Archbishop Cardoso is supported by international pro-life leaders and members of his own diocesan administration, as well as that of the neighboring Diocese of Pesqueira. Several of them, including Fr. Rodrigues (the priest of the parish where the child resides), the Vicar General and the Seminary Rector of Olinda and Recife, and the diocesan attorney, have written a letter rebuffing Fisichella and answering his claims.

Caling Fisichella’s article “a direct affront to the defense of the life of three children carried out energetically by Dom Jose Cardoso Sobrinho” the authors of the letter said the Vatican prelate had spoken “about something he did not know, and what is worse, without even doing the work of speaking previously with his brother in the episcopateâEUR¦” (see translation of full text at

Contact Information:

Congregation for the Bishops
Giovanni Battista Re, Cardinal, Prefect
Francesco Monterisi, Secretary
Palazzo della Congregazioni,
00193 Roma,
Piazza Pio XII, 10

S. E. R. Mons. Salvatore FISICHELLA,
Titular Archbishop of Voghenza
President, Pontifical Academy for Life
Via della Conciliazione 1
00193 Roma
Tel. +39 06 69882423 / 06 69881693
Fax +39 06 69882014

Related Links:

The Case of the Child from Alagoinha – The side that the press didn’t see (Portuguese)
CASO DA MENINA DE ALAGOINHA – O lado que a imprensa deixou de ver

Letter from Alberto R. S. Monteiro on the Recife affair (Portuguese)

Declaration of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife

In Portuguese (Declaração da Arquidiocese de Olinda e Recife)

Interview with Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho (Portuguese)
Entrevista Dom José Cardoso Sobrinho

On the Side of the Brazilian Child by Msgr. Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella (Italian)
Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana

Brazilian Medical Expert Counters Statements by Vatican Official Defending Abortion for Nine-Year-Old Girl