By Hilary White

March 13, 2009 ( – Two French bishops have condemned the excommunications of a Brazilian mother and doctors who procured an abortion for her nine year-old daughter. The bishops of the dioceses of Gap in southeastern France and Nanterre, near Paris, have blasted Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of the archdiocese of Olinda and Recife for “adding to the pain” of the “tragedy.”

In an open letter, published on the Nanterre diocese website, Bishop Gérard Antoine Daucourt wrote that although he is “strongly opposed” to abortion, in his announcement of the excommunication Archbishop Cardoso had “caused suffering and scandal among many people throughout the world.”

Bishop Daucourt wrote, “The mother of the girl may have thought it was better to save a life than to risk losing three.”

“Perhaps the physicians said the uterus of a child of nine could not expand indefinitely … I do not know.”

Daucourt added that although many Protestant evangelicals in his diocese are also “opposed” to abortion, they do not “proclaim public condemnations.”

“Perhaps this is one reason,” he said, “why evangelical communities attract so many Catholics today, especially in Brazil.”

Jean-Michel di Falco, the bishop of the diocese of Gap, argued in a letter published on the front page of the diocese’s website, that the abortion might not incur an automatic excommunication because of possible mitigating circumstances and said that Archbishop Cardoso had given “a lesson in the logic of repression” by declaring the excommunication. 

The Brazilian girl, whose name has not been released to the public, was found to be pregnant with twins after being molested by her stepfather. Under Brazilian law, abortion is legal if it can be shown the pregnancy is the result of rape or the mother’s life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.

Archbishop Cardoso, of the Brazilian archdiocese of Olinda and Recife, said that although the child could not be accountable, her adult family members and the doctors who committed the act are under an automatic sentence of excommunication, according to the Church’s canon law.

According to Catholic law, abortion, the willful killing of a child in the womb, is an act that carries an automatic, “latae sententiae,” sentence of excommunication. This means that the penalty is levied “by the act itself” and does not require any type of decree or confirmation by a bishop to be valid.

It was reported that although doctors at the first hospital where the girl was initially admitted refused to commit the abortion, saying that her life was not in danger, her mother, determined to procure an abortion, simply transferred her daughter to another hospital, Cisam, that was willing go ahead.

Bishop di Falco, nonetheless, suggested in his letter that the mother might have been acting out of “grave fear,” in which case, he said, that, according to a Canon Law expert he consulted, the penalty of automatic excommunication does not apply.

“No doubt the mother of this little girl,” he wrote, “is doubly burdened by the tragic family situation that she long suffered, and the stigma associated with the publicity surrounding the excommunication.”

Accusing Archbishop Cardoso of a “lack of compassion,” the bishop of Gap wrote, “Who are we to condemn without trial and without qualification?”

Bishop Daucourt noted at the end of his letter that he was forwarding a copy to Giovanni Cardinal Battista Re, of the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, who recently told Italian media that the excommunication was justified in the case.

“It’s a sad case,” Cardinal Re told La Stampa newspaper, “but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated.”

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops also issued a statement of support for Cardoso Sobrinho, saying, “The Church, in fidelity to the Gospel, positions itself always in favor of life, in an unequivocal condemnation of all violence done against the dignity of the human person.”

“Furthermore, we do not agree with the final outcome of eliminating the life of defenseless human beings.”

Read related coverage:

Vatican Backs Bishop Who Excommunicated Doctor and Family Involved in Abortion

Archbishop Announces Excommunication of Doctor and Family Members for Abortion on Nine-Year-Old Girl