By Hilary White

ROME, April 30, 2009 ( – In recent weeks, pro-life Catholics from around the world have flooded Vatican offices with protests, petitions and letters asking for a retraction or clarification on an article published by L’Osservatore Romano implying that direct abortion could be morally justified or its evil mitigated in some “extreme circumstances”. However, since the March 15th publication of the article, provocatively titled, “On the side of the Brazilian girl,” by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), nothing has been heard from the Vatican or Fisichella himself.

Archbishop Fisichella prompted widespread outrage when he attacked as “hasty” the decision by Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife to announce that those who had procured the abortion of twins for a nine year-old rape victim had incurred an automatic penalty of excommunication. Fisichella wrote that the decision to “help stop the pregnancy,” was a “difficult” one “for doctors and for the moral law.”

On Thursday, April 30, LSN was informed that Monsignor José Geraldo Caiuby Crescenti, a noted canonist, former judicial vicar of the archdiocese of Anapolis in Brazil and close friend of Archbishop Sobrinho, had confirmed that to date, no response has come to the archdiocese from Archbishop Fisichella or any official of the Vatican.

LSN has been shown dozens of letters and petitions sent to Rome by prominent academics, physicians, and pro-life advocates from sixteen countries asking Archbishop Fisichella and various Vatican congregations for a correction or clarification.

The article, and the silence following it from Pope Benedict’s curia, has raised fears among some in the worldwide pro-life community that key members of the Vatican hierarchy are silently moving away from the Church’s historically robust condemnation of abortion and defence of the absolute sacredness of human life.

In an open letter published by today, highly respected philosopher Professor Joseph Seifert, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that the article has led to a “deep crisis” in the PAV, and “more importantly, of the public perception of Church teaching on abortion.” (See letter: or

Professor Seifert, rector and professor of philosophy at the International Academy of Philosophy of Liechtenstein, writes that because of this article, and its support by the pope’s official media spokesman, Fr. Frederico Lombardi SJ, “countless persons” throughout the world now attribute to the PAV and by extension to the Pope himself, “a propagation of a new moral doctrine diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Church”.

Although Msgr. Fisichella wrote in his article that “procured abortion has always been condemned by the moral law as an intrinsically evil act, and this teaching remains unchanged to our day,” at its end, he praised those who had “allowed [the girl] to live” by killing her two children. He concluded by stating that those who were involved in the abortion did not “deserve” excommunication.

In a statement of clarification, the archdiocese responded to Fisichella’s accusations, saying that the local Church had come to the child’s aid in many ways, both spiritual and material, and that Fisichella had perpetrated a serious injustice against his “brother in the episcopate” by failing to contact Archbishop Sobrinho or find out what had happened directly from anyone involved.

Calling 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 Recife diocese’s statement said Fisichella 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¦”

The secular press and the pro-abortion lobby responded promptly to the article, with headlines and hundreds of articles and editorials claiming that Fisichella is hinting at a softening of the Church’s position on abortion. The Associated Press announced, “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old.” The Washington Post said, “Vatican Official Defends Child’s Abortion.”

Significantly, Fisichella’s article was highly praised by France Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, an abortion lobby group that presents itself as Catholic and attempts to pressure the Catholic Church to abandon its teachings on life and family.

In a widely published essay, Kissling called Fisichella’s article “an amazing shift in the Vatican’s strategy of no dissent from its position that direct abortion is never permitted.” She said it was a “modest deviation” that “opens the door for Catholics who follow church teachings on reproduction to discuss the possibility that there are some cases officially acknowledged where individuals can choose abortion and have a calm conscience.”

Taking a similar interpretation to that of Ms. Kissling, pro-life leaders reacted with shock. Letters of protest are known to have been received by Archbishop Fisichella, and circulated to several Vatican dicasteries, from Italy, Spain, England, Canada, the US, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatamala, El Salvador, Venzuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina and Belgium.

Adding to the unease is the fear that the article has received the highest possible sanction from the hierarchy of the Church. It is common knowledge that articles intended for L’Osservatore Romano are vetted first by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the highest office under the papacy. Vatican watcher and respected journalist Sandro Magister said that given the prominence of the article’s author and its content, it “was certainly among the most carefully scrutinized and authorized by the Vatican Secretariat of State.”

Moreover, rumours have circulated in Rome that the article had also been approved by an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s doctrinal watchdog.

During the 26-year papacy of John Paul II, pro-life people had relied heavily on the unswerving defence and frequent expositions on the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life both from the pope himself and from various high-level Vatican officials. Key Vatican posts, such as the congregations on doctrine and the family, were held by well-known and outspoken defenders of Catholic teaching.

Prominent among these was the Pontifical Academy of Life which, under the guidance of the now-retired Bishop Elio Sgreccia, was described as a “bastion and guiding light” to the pro-life movement around the world.

One prominent pro-life advocate, who asked not to be named, told that the shock of this incident, compounded and intensified by the Vatican’s complete silence, is a sign of a significant shift against the pro-life movement at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

He said that pro-life people around the world are asking why this undermining of Catholic teaching has gone uncorrected and why this attack on a “brother bishop” has been un-answered?

“At this stage,” he said, “we need a clarification or a retraction by Archbishop Fisichella, a press release from the Holy See Press Office or even a clear re-statement of the Church’s unchanging teaching from the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] CDF.”

Read more of’s extensive coverage:

Brazilian Archbishop Who Announced Excommunication of Abortionists Receives International Pro-Life Award

International Pro-Abortion Group Conspired With Hospital to Kill Unborn Twins in Famous Brazilian Case –
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Part II:
Part III: