By Hilary White, Rome Correspondent and John-Henry Westen  

ROME, March 18, 2009 ( – The automatic excommunication of doctors involved in the abortion of the twins of a nine-year-old rape victim in Brazil has created a largely unprecedented public scuffle between Vatican prelates. The excommunication was announced by Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of the archdiocese of the city of Recife where the girl lived and backed by the Vatican’s Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops Cardinal Battista Re. (see coverage: )
However, in what came as a shock to the pro-life and Catholic world, Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, the new appointee to head the Pontifical Academy for Life, published an article in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Sunday publicly disagreeing with the Brazilian Archbishop and, by extension, the Vatican Prefect who supported him.
Archbishop Fisichella wrote in the Vatican’s newspaper that the decision to “help stop the pregnancy,” was a “difficult” one “for doctors and for the moral law.”  He added that the announcement by the local bishop in Brazil of the excommunication of the mother and doctors who procured the abortion, was made “hastily.” He appeared to defend the doctors “choices,” saying that they are made only with difficulty, and that it is “unjust” to assume that the abortion was done lightly.
Responses reportedly circulating from within the Archdiocese in Brazil however charge that Fischella’s own response to the situation may have been hasty, given that he did not consult with his brother bishop in Brazil before publicly slamming him in L’Osservatore Romano.

A declaration from the Brazilian Archdiocese of Archbishop Sobrinho notes that Archbishop Fisichella “believed he could speak about [a situation] he did not know, and, what is worse, he did not even have the trouble of first speaking to his brother in the episcopate, and, for his imprudent attitude, he is causing great scandal among the Catholic faithful in Brazil who are believing that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho was rash in his pronouncements. Instead of seeking his brother in the episcopate, he chose to believe in our openly Anti-clerical press.” (See the full declaration from the Archdiocese here:
 News services around the world are now declaring that the Vatican is supporting the abortion of the twin babies of the nine year-old. The Associated Press declared “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old.” In addition to the Associated Press story, the London Times said, “Vatican backtracks over doctors involved in providing abortion to a raped nine-year-old”; and the Irish Times offered, “Excommunication of doctor and mother criticized.” Similar headlines have come from the Boston Globe, the Independent, the Washington Times and Commonweal, among others.
“Choices like this,” wrote Archbishop Fisichella in his article, “albeit with different cases, are repeated every day in the intensive care units and in the conscience of the medical doctor who finds himself alone in the act of having to decide what is best to do.”
“No-one, however, arrives at a decision of this nature in a careless way. It is unjust and offensive even to think about this possibility.”
Archbishop Fisichella, who as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life is charged with upholding the Church’s teaching on the absolute sanctity of human life from conception, said that because of Archbishop Cardoso’s announcement of the excommunication of the doctors, the “credibility of our teaching took a blow as it appeared, in the eyes of many, to be insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy.”
He continued, “Due respect to the professionalism of the medical doctor is a rule that should involve all of us and cannot allow us to arrive at a negative judgment without having first considered the conflict that has arisen within the doctor. The doctor carries within himself his history and his experience. A choice like whether to save a life, knowing that he is putting at risk a second life, is never carried out easily.”
The Brazilian Archdiocese, however, responded to the assertions saying that the L’Osservatore Romano “article is, in other words, a direct attack of the defense of the lives of the three children vehemently made by Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho and leaves evident how much the author does not have the necessary data or information to speak on the matter, due to his utter ignorance of the facts.” 

It added: “The text may be interpreted as an apologia of abortion, violating the Magisterium of the Church. The abortionist doctors were not in the moral crossroads mentioned by the text; on the contrary, they performed the abortion with full knowledge and coherence with what they believe and teach. The hospital in which the abortion on the little girl was performed is one of those that always perform this procedure in our state, under the cover of ‘legality’. The doctors who acted as executioners of the twins declared, and still declare in the national media, that they did what they are used to doing ‘with great pride’.” 

Despite Archbishop Fisichella’s assertion that “because of her very young age and precarious health conditions, her life was in serious danger as a result of the pregnancy”, it has been reported that the hospital at which the girl was first examined refused to do the abortion on the grounds that her life was not endangered. Moreover a medical specialist in the area has opined that the child could have safely delivered the babies via caesarean section. (see coverage: )
 See the full declaration from the Archdiocese here: