The archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Brazil, Most Rev. José Cardoso Sobrinho, is being lynched in a worldwide media uproar.
This outcry is fueled by a bizarre coalition of abortionists, liberals and otherwise rash talking heads who do not know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, some French and Italian bishops have joined the chorus of detractors of the Brazilian Archbishop.1
What Has Archbishop Cardoso Done To Cause Such Fury?
What has the archbishop done to receive the honors of unpopularity and persecution?
Faithful to the duties of his office, he simply sought to prevent an abortion from being performed on a raped 9-year old girl. After the abortion was done, he declared the automatic excommunication that befalls those who practice or effectively collaborate with the carrying out of this crime.2
To better understand the archbishop’s action and the fury of his detractors, a more detailed analysis of the facts needs to be done.
Public Opinion Rejects Abortion
In Brazil, a country with a Catholic majority, the abortion movement has obtained a significant victory with the legalization of abortion in two cases: (a) rape, and (b) when the mother’s life is in danger. Now the movement seeks unrestricted legal abortion, a task for which it counts on the support of the Brazilian government and its socialist-oriented Workers Party (PT) — and the so-called “Catholic left.”
The ruling Workers Party has been in power for almost eight years and controls (by means of a coalition) a large part of the Brazilian Congress. It is fully committed to legalizing abortion. The present administration has signed international agreements promising to legalize abortion.3 The only obstacle in its way is a lack of support in Brazilian public opinion.4
Even though opinion polls on abortion are contradictory and often confusing, a majority of Brazilians continues to oppose that criminal measure so contrary to Catholic Morals, natural law, and even to the most basic sense of humanity.
The Tactic Of Emotional Impact
Given this passive opposition by public opinion, the pro-abortion movement has adopted the tactics of emotional impact, trying to exploit the tragic cases that so often pop up in today’s decadent society. They politicize, manipulate and distort these cases with a strong emotional charge in the media and present abortion as the only possible solution for them.
Once the debate is shifted from the sphere of a logical and doctrinal dispute carried out with serene impartiality, the way is open to demagogy. In an artificially created emotional climate, arguments against abortion, though clear and simple, sound as if removed from reality, suggesting a lack of sensitivity and compassion. Thus, the position of the Church, a sure protection for the weaker parties—the unborn child and the mother, given the psychological and physical damages caused by abortion—appears absurd and untenable.
This shift is only possible because the notion of true love – a fruit of detachment and self-denial – is gradually disappearing, and replaced with its opposite, sentimentality—which is only a form of egoism. And sentimentality is opposed to logic and reason.
This was the emotional climate created around the events that gave rise to the declaration of excommunication by the archbishop of Recife.
Exploiting a Tragedy
On February 25, 2009, in the small town of Alagoinha, in northeastern Brazil, family and medical personnel discovered that a 9-year old girl had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather and was in the fourth month of pregnancy with twins.
It is a tragic fact that has become more common these days: over a ten-year period in Brazil, about 300,000 girls under 14 have given birth.5
Once known, authorities arrested the stepfather and the girl was entrusted to the town’s Guardianship Council.6 Along with the girl’s natural father and mother, the Council’s members unanimously decided against an abortion and took the girl to the Pernambuco Pediatrics Institute (IMIP) in Recife, the state capital, for medical and psychological tests.
At the hospital, a social worker asked the members of the Guardianship Council of Alagoinha accompanying the mother to sign a document allowing the child to abort. However, the whole Guardianship Council of Alagoinha denied authorization.
The Child’s Life Was Not In Danger
At this point, the turn of events reads like a police novel: the mother and girl were practically abducted and kept in a hospital room. Only members of the Guardianship Council could visit them, but only in the presence of the above-mentioned pro-abortion social worker.
The parish priest of Alagoinha, Rev. Fr. Edson Rodrigues, who accompanied the Guardianship counselors, was barred from entering. He was able only to exchange a few words with the girl’s mother in the corridor. The illiterate mother told the priest she had “signed” (with her thumbprint) “some papers.” The pastor recounts: “I asked her how her girl was doing. The mother told me she was well and playing in the apartment with some dolls she had been given by people at the hospital.”7
Thus, the child was in perfect health on the eve of the abortion.
Along with the parish priest, the girl’s biological father also went to the Recife Hospital and made clear his opposition to an abortion.
An Effort To Save Three Lives
At no point were the members of the Guardianship Council or the pastor able to contact the hospital’s doctors to find out the girl’s clinical state. They were told that information would be sent to them in Alagoinha over the next few days.
Given the media spotlight on the matter and the turn events were taking, showing a clear intent to carry out an abortion by any means, Most Rev. José Cardoso Sobrinho, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, where the hospital is located, together with Most Rev. Francisco Biasin, the Bishop of Pesqueira, to which Alagoinha belongs, felt obliged to intervene. On Monday, March 2, the Archbishop of Recife met in his palace with a team of medical doctors, lawyers, psychologists, jurists and other professionals involved in the matter, to study the case.
Present at a meeting the next day was IMIP director, Mr. Antonio Figueiras, who, learning of the social worker’s abusive attitude toward the pastor, the counselors and even the girl’s father, ordered the suspension of any initiative that might lead to an abortion. Thus, at 8 a.m., all necessary measures had been taken to prevent an abortion.
Pro-Abortion Feminists Intervene
It seemed as if the case had been resolved and that an abortion would be avoided. However, at 5:30 p.m. that same day, Archbishop Sobrinho received a call from the IMIP Director telling him that members of a pro-feminist organization called Curumins accompanied by two officials of the Secretariat of Health of the State of Pernambuco had been to the hospital and had convinced the mother to sign a request to transfer the child to another hospital.8
The next day, March 4, the abortion was performed on the girl, with her mother’s consent, at the hospital to which she had been taken.
An Immoral And Illegal Abortion
That double abortion was not only an immoral act but also an illegal one, having been carried out against the manifest opposition of the girl’s biological father.
Indeed, according to Brazilian law, even when the parents are separated, the consent of both must be obtained for decisions concerning the future of a minor, such as having an abortion. If both parents are not in agreement, a judicial decision is required.
The Girl’s Life Was Not At Risk
Therefore, this abortion − with the death of the innocent twins − was not only a violation of Divine Law (“Thou shalt not kill”) but also of Brazilian law.
An aggravating circumstance is that there was no risk to the girl’s life, either immediate or long-term. She suffered an abortion based solely on speculations over possible future health complications. Such complications do not arise abruptly and their symptoms can normally be detected and treated by specialists.
With the adequate medical assistance already being provided, the girl from Alagoinha could have taken her pregnancy to the point when the fetuses can live outside the womb (only two more months!). At that point, it would be possible to perform a Caesarian section with great likelihood that the twins would survive.
A Pregnant Child Who Did Not Suffer An Abortion
Almost at the same time as the events in Pernambuco, a similar case took place in the extreme south of Brazil. In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, an 11-year girl, who also was raped by her stepfather, gave birth successfully, thanks to the support of the Diocese of Frederico Westfallen and proper medical assistance.
On March 3, the news agency BBCNews-Brasil said “Yesterday saw the birth of the daughter of the 11-year old girl who became pregnant after being sexually abused by her adoptive father in Iraí. A Caesarean section was performed. Obstetrician Claudio José Furini, who performed the operation in Tenente Portela, affirms the birth took place without complications.”9
The Archbishop Warns About Automatic Excommunication
Given the repercussions of the case and the way the pro-abortion movement wanted to use it to advance its agenda, the archbishop of Recife, Most Rev. José Cardoso Sobrinho (a Carmelite and a former professor of Canon Law at the order’s International College in Rome) made clear that those directly involved in performing the abortion would incur automatic excommunication, but not the girl herself, as she was excluded from that penalty by the Code of Canon Law, since she was under 16 years of age.10
Pro-abortion activists immediately started protesting, beginning with Brazil’s President Lula, who while claiming to be a Catholic stated that medicine is more ‘advanced’ than the Church.11
Health Minister José Gomes Temporão sent by special courier a letter of congratulations to the doctors who performed the abortion.12
Some so-called moderates also came out saying the archbishop’s attitude was exaggerated.
European Bishops Disagree With the Archbishop Cardoso’s Courageous Stand
Surprisingly, some French bishops, though saying they oppose abortion, wrote open letters lambasting Archbishop Sobrinho’s stance as “hasty” and lacking charity.
Before criticizing their brother in the episcopate, the French prelates did not even bother to find out what the actual facts were, an unbecoming attitude for someone clamoring against a ‘lack of charity.’13
Even more surprising was an article printed on March 15, on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper of the Holy See, authored by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.14
This article has the same argumentative line of the French bishops, but it is even more emotional and sensationalist. It affirms that the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife should not have declared the excommunication but rather remained quiet.
The article says: “Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the church should be expert and masters in proclaiming. True, Carmen (a fictitious name he gave to the 9 year-old girl) carried within herself other innocent lives like hers, albeit a fruit of violence, and they have been suppressed; this, however, is not enough to make a judgment that weighs on her like a cleaver.”
Based on a supposed difficulty in making the ethical choice, the article tries to justify the conduct of the doctors who performed the abortion: “Carmen’s case was one of life or death. Because of her very young age and precarious health her life was in serious danger with the pregnancy. How should one act in these cases? This is an arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself.”
The article concludes in a dramatic and somewhat theatrical tone, addressing the girl: “Carmen, we are on your side. We share the suffering you have sustained, we want to do everything to restore the dignity you have been deprived of and the love, which you will now need even more. Others deserve excommunication and our forgiveness; not those who enabled you to live and will help you recover hope and confidence, notwithstanding the presence of evil and wickedness.”
In more direct terms, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life (no less) affirms that the doctors who performed the abortion (“those who allowed her to live”) did not incur excommunication, which should befall “others” instead. Who are these “others?” Archbishop Fisichella did not clarify it, leaving the incrimination hovering in the air…
The Archdiocese Responds to L’Osservatore Romano
On March 16, 2009, the Archdiocese of Recife published a statement “About the Article, ‘On Behalf of the Brazilian Girl’ Published in L’Osservatore Romano on May 15.”
It is a brief note signed jointly by Rev. Fr. Edson Rodrigues, pastor of Alagoinha, in the Diocese of Pesqueira; Rev. Msgr. Edvaldo Bezerra da Silva, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife; Rev. Fr. Moisés Ferreira de Lima, Rector of the Archdiocesan Seminary of Recife; and Márcio Miranda, Esq. – attorney of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife.
The note clarifies that the author of the article in L’Osservatore Romano pronounced himself on the case without knowing all the facts. Even more, he “didn’t even bother to have a previous conversation with his brother in the episcopate but preferred to “believe our openly anticlerical press.” Because of this “imprudent attitude” his article “is causing a real tumult among faithful Catholics in Brazil who are led to think that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho was overly hasty in his pronouncements.”
Contrary to what the article says, there was no “hurry” to excommunicate in lieu of supporting the girl and her family. Rather, as soon as he learned of the situation, the parish priest of Alagoinha “went immediately to the family’s home where he met the child to give support and orientation given the grave and difficult situation she found herself in. And this attitude was repeated every single day from Alagoinha to Recife, where the sad outcome took place, namely, the abortion of two innocent children.”
What the pastor of Alagoinha and the archbishop of Recife sought with all their might was to “save the three lives” by avoiding the abortion.
Furthermore, contrary to what the L’Osservatore article insinuates, “the moral law is perfectly clear: it is never licit to eliminate the life of an innocent human being to save that of another. These are the objective facts: there are doctors who have explicitly declared they perform and will continue to perform abortions, whereas others declare with the same firmness that they will never perform an abortion.”
The archbishop of Recife only came out in the press the day before the March 4 abortion. “Only on March 3, when questioned by reporters, did the archbishop mention canon 1398. We are convinced that the publishing of this medicinal penalty (excommunication) will do good to many Catholics, leading them to avoid that most grave sin.”
In the present circumstances, “the Church’s silence would be very harmful, above all when we find that fifty million abortions are taking place all over the world every year and that in Brazil one million innocent lives are cut off in the same period.” This silence “could be interpreted as connivance or complicity.”
As for the doctors, if they were Catholics willing to observe the law of God and had difficulty resolving the moral problem, they should have consulted with a spiritual director. “In fact, the abortionist doctors were never at the moral crossroads mentioned in the text; on the contrary, they performed the abortion with total awareness and in complete coherence with what they believe and teach. The hospital that performed the abortion on the little girl is one of those that always carry out this procedure in our State, under the cloak of ‘legality.’”
Finally, the article in L’Osservatore is “a direct affront to the defense of the three children’s lives vehemently carried out by Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho and shows how the author lacks the basic and necessary information to speak about the matter since he is totally unaware of its details.”
Even more grave, this “text can be interpreted as an apology of abortion, opposing the Magisterium of the Church.”
“Fighting the Good Fight” Without Discouragement
In short, far from deserving the unjust criticisms that he received even from brethren in the episcopate and highly placed prelates, the action taken by Most Rev. José Cardoso Sobrinho, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife is worthy of praise.
Strong measures are becoming ever more necessary in a world that has lost the sense of morals, in which the egoistic hedonism of some and the slothful cowardice of others allow the “culture of death” to advance threateningly, cutting down innocent lives both of the unborn and of comatose adults (like Terry Schiavo in the U.S. and Eluana Englaro in Italy). Today, abortion: tomorrow, euthanasia. What will be next?
This courageous stance needs to will find a favorable echo especially in Catholic and pro-life circles. It encourages all those who are pleased to find that there are still vigilant shepherds who are not like “dumb dogs, [unable to] bark” (Is 56:10).
In the great cultural battle to maintain natural law and revealed morals in a world sinking increasing into chaos of minds and institutions, and whose reference points are being increasingly destroyed, it is lamentable that certain bishops turn against those who are “fighting the good fight” (Cf. 2 Tim. 4:7).
But these divisions should not dampen our enthusiasm, for in the clash, faith is tested, and we will be rewarded for our fidelity.15
- Cf. Abp. Rino Fisichella, “Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana,” L’Osservatore Romano, Mar. 15, 2009, at http://www.vatican.va/news_services/or/or_quo/commenti/2009/062q01b1.html; “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old,” International Herald Tribune, Mar. 15, 2009,http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/03/15/europe/EU-Vatican-Brazil-Girls-Abortion.php ; “Lettre ouverte de Mgr Daucourt à Mgr Sobrinho, archevêque d’Olinda et Recife” (Mar. 12, 2009); “Communiqué de Mgr Francis Deniau, évêque pour la Nièvre,” Mar. 11, 2009; “Communiqué de la Mission de France” Mar. 11, 2209; “Communiqué de Mgr Norbert Turini, diocèse de Cahors” (Cf. http://www.la-croix.com/recherche/resultatCLE.jsp?motCle=lettre+ouverte&x=16&y=7); Hilary White, “Two French Bishops Condemn Excommunications in Brazil as Lacking ‘Compassion,’” LifeSiteNews.com, Mar. 13, 2009, http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/mar/09031308.html
- Can. 1398: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” Can.1329, §2: Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them…”
- Mirella D’elia, “Ministro do STF defende debate sobre aborto seguro,” http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/Brasil/0,,MUL340744-5598,00-MINISTRO+DO+STF+DEFENDE+DEBATE+SOBRE+ABORTO+SEGURO.html
- Carlos Alberto Di Franco, “Brasileiro é contra o aborto,” http://www.portaldafamilia.org.br/artigos/artigo604.shtm.l (Oct. 30, 2007)
- The Guardianship Council is a public watchdog agency that verifies that the rights defined in the Statute of the Child (ECA) are being respected.
- Here we are following the report written by Rev. Fr. Edson Rodrigues, pastor of Alagoinha, Pernambuco, in the diocese of Pesqueira, who participated in the events directly or through the Guardianship Counselor of his town. Cf. O CASO DA MENINA DE ALAGOINHA-PE − O QUE VOCÊ VAI LER, A IMPRENSA NÃO QUIS E NEM QUER SABER – A TODOS AQUELES QUE COMPREENDEM O VALOR DA VIDA, http://padreedson.blogspot.com/2009/03/versao-completa-do-caso-da-menina-de.html.
- “The Curumim Group is a civic, feminist and anti-racist entity. Its major goal is to strengthen the citizenship of women in all phases of their lives by promoting Human Rights; integral health; sexual and reproductive rights.…Curumim Group has the technical support of a Consultative Council—made up of learned professionals, specialists in the areas of education, health and anthropology and representatives of the public—that is directly assisted by the action of the Curumim Group such as midwives, youths, women living with AIDS, lesbians, among others….” http://grupocurumim.blogspot.com.
- “Nasce bebê de garota de 11 anos estuprada pelo pai, adotivo,” http://www.bbcnews.com.br/index.php?p=noticias&cat=187&nome=Brasil%202&id=142784
- Can. 1323: “The following are not subject to a penalty when they have violated a law or precept: 1° – a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age.”
- Marina Novaes, “Arcebispo em PE defende excomunhão e diz que aborto é crime mais grave que estupro,” Folha Online, Mar. 6, 2009, http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/folha/cotidiano/ult95u530540.shtml.
- “Médicos do Cisam recebem apoio de secretário do Ministério da Saúde,” JC Online, Mar. 13, 2009, http://jc.uol.com.br/canal/cotidiano/pernambuco/noticia/2009/03/13/medicos-do-cisam-recebem-apoio-de-secretario-do-ministerio-da-saude-181751.php.
- Cf. “Lettre ouverte de Mgr Daucourt à Mgr Sobrinho, archevêque d’Olinda et Recife” (Mar. 12, 2009); “Communiqué de Mgr Francis Deniau, évêque pour la Nièvre,” (Mar. 11, 2009); “Comuniqué de la Mission de France,” (Mar. 11, 2209); “Communiqué de Mgr Norbert Turini, diocèse de Cahors,” (Cf. http://www.la-croix.com/recherche/resultatCLE.jsp?motCle=lettre+ouverte&x=16&y=7); Hilary White, “Two French Bishops Condemn Excommunications in Brazil as Lacking “Compassion,” LifeSiteNews.com, Mar. 13, 2009, http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/mar/09031308.html).
- Rino Fisichella, “Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana,” L’Osservatore Romano, Mar. 15, 2009, http://www.vatican.va/news_services/or/or_quo/commenti/2009/062q01b1.html.
- “Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:21).