Official says church's stance in Brazilian rape case 'lacked mercy'
A senior Vatican official has criticized the excommunication of a Brazilian woman whose nine-year-old daughter had an abortion after being raped, as well as the medical team who performed it.
"Before thinking about an excommunication it was necessary and urgent to save the innocent life" of the girl "to bring her back to a level of humanity of which clerics should be the experts and master," said Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
"This was not the case," Fisichella said in an article to be published by the Vatican's Osservatore Romano newspaper today.
"Unfortunately the credibility of our teaching took a blow as it appeared, in the eyes of many, to be insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy."
The Academy for Life is tasked with promoting the church's doctrine on bioethics.
Brazilian bishops said Thursday the excommunication of the mother and doctors of the girl, who was pregnant with twins and allegedly raped by her stepfather, was wrong and would not be applied.
The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil decided that the child's mother acted "under pressure from the doctors" who said the girl would die if she carried the babies to term.
Dimas Lara Barbosa, the body's secretary-general, told reporters the mother therefore could not be excommunicated. "We must take the circumstances into consideration," he said.
As for the doctors, there was no clear case that they should be expelled from the church either, he said, contrary to the position taken by Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, who announced the excommunications.
Barbosa said only doctors who "systematically" conduct abortions are thrown out of the church.
Sobrinho's position that the abortion "was more serious" than the rape prompted much debate, with many denouncing his lack of compassion. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the head of the church's Congregation for Bishops, had told the Italian daily La Stampa the twins had had a right to live and that the attacks on Sobrinho were "unjustified."
Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the woman's health is in danger.
The girl was found to be four months' pregnant after being taken to a hospital suffering stomach pains. Officials said she told them she had been abused by her stepfather since the age of six.
Her 23-year-old stepfather was arrested and is being kept in protective custody.
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