Friday, March 13, 2009

Women's eNews: Vatican Should Start Outcast Honor Roll

A Brazilian archbishop's decision to excommunicate the mother of a 9-year-old rape victim who had an abortion, as well as the girl's doctor, outrages Anne Eggebroten. She says Catholic leaders need to revisit their own religious teachings.

Here's today's update:


Vatican Expulsion Should Start Outcast Honor Roll
By Anne Eggebroten
WeNews commentator

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Saving the life of a 9-year-old rape victim is a crime, according to Brazilian Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

The "crime" of ending the pregnancy last week in Brazil has earned excommunication for the mother and doctors of the child, but not for the stepfather who apparently sexually abused the child for three years, and her sister as well.

This kind of ethics can only marginalize a church that would like to portray itself as a leading force for moral guidance in the world.

"Life must always be protected," said Re to the daily La Stampa in Rome.

Read: unborn life. The cardinal made no comment on the need to protect little girls or their lives.

"In essence, it appears the church's attitude and the stepfather's attitude are no different, namely, the idea that a female body is not the girl's or woman's own but belongs to men to determine whatever they want with it," notes Letha Dawson Scanzoni, a writer on religion and social issues.

The abortion was legal because Brazil permits the procedure in cases of rape and to save a woman's life, although it outlaws all other abortions. This case qualified on both counts; the child's life was in danger because she was bearing twins and her body weight was just 80 pounds. The girl's stepfather has been jailed and faces criminal charges.

Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and its progressive health minister, Jose Gomes Temporao, have criticized the excommunication and defended the doctor for performing the legal procedure. Temporao has already called for reforms to Brazil's abortion law in the interest of protecting women's health. About 1 million illegal abortions are performed each year in the nation, and about a quarter-million women are hospitalized after receiving botched procedures, according to the reproductive rights group Ipas.

Father Knows Best
But Father knows best. The Roman Catholic Church in Brazil and in Rome ruled that Brazilian law is wrong: the twin fetuses carried by the 9-year-old had a right to live, a right that outweighed her possible death.

Let's count the crimes here:

a child is raped;
the Roman Catholic Church wanted to force her to carry twins to full term and undergo either childbirth or Caesarean section;
the church doesn't mind risking the girl-child's life and sanity;
a Brazilian archbishop excommunicated the child's family and her doctors;
local priests may actually deny the Eucharist to these people.
The list could continue.

On the other hand, Catholic priests who commit sexual abuse of children are not excommunicated but rehabilitated.

Prominent Catholic feminists have called the church to task, notably Frances Kissling of Catholics for Choice, and leaders of the Women's Ordination Conference, who underline the continuing need for women in leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

A further irony, highlighted by Aisha Taylor and Erin Saiz Hanna of the Women's Ordination Conference, is that Pope Benedict XVI issued a March 8 proclamation of the church's commitment to "every woman . . . obtaining complete respect for her dignity," one day after the cardinal's "right to life" words.

Did the archbishop in Brazil or the cardinal in Rome call for prayers for this child and her family? Who is paying for the counseling this child surely needs? Is a priest or nun visiting the child and her mother and assuring them that God loves and forgives their decision, or even approves it?

Not likely. Archbishop Sobrinho reportedly told the press that abortion is an even more serious crime in the church's view than the rape of a child.

Another Faith May Comfort Her
One blessing in the church's decision to expel the child's family is apparent: She will not remain within a system teaching her that she and her family have committed an unforgiveable sin, a murder. Many other religious communities exist in Brazil, some of which offer a more just interpretation of this tragedy.

Apparently these Catholic leaders have not read chapter 8 of the Gospel according to John lately. When the religious leaders of the first century are about to stone an anonymous woman (but not her partner) for adultery, Jesus warns them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

By excommunicating the mother and doctors who made a difficult decision in an ethically complex crisis, the men of today's church defy these words.

Honor Roll of the Excommunicated
To demonstrate the irrelevance of the church's position, women's groups around the world need to start an honor roll of people excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, starting with Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois, who attended and affirmed the ordination to the priesthood of a Roman Catholic woman in Kentucky last August.

Then add the names of Dr. Rivaldo Albuquerque--who performed the girl's abortion--and others involved in this case, as well as other Catholics whom the church has silenced or excommunicated, primarily for disagreeing with the church's position on social issues such as contraception, gay rights, women's ordination, and clerical celibacy.

Some organization could hold an annual honors banquet with a cash award, or perhaps the excommunicated could be given travel expenses to the annual conference of a para-church group like Call to Action, where they could meet together for support.

I hear the voice of Jesus here:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the realm of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

Anne Eggebroten is the editor of "Abortion--My Choice, God's Grace: Christian Women Tell Their Stories" (Pasadena: New Paradigm Books, 1994) and teaches Women and Religion at California State University, Northridge. She blogs about women's rights and lives at

Nine-Year-Old's Abortion Outrages Brazil's Catholic Church

Nine-Year-Old's Abortion Outrages Brazil's Catholic Church
By Andrew Downie / São Paulo Friday, Mar. 06, 2009

Demonstrators hold a banner during an antiabortion march in Brasília
Jamil Bittar / Reuters

The case of the pregnant 9-year-old was shocking enough. But it was the response of the Catholic Church that infuriated many Brazilians. Archibishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of the coastal city of Recife announced that the Vatican was excommunicating the family of a local girl who had been raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, because they had chosen to have the girl undergo an abortion. The Church excommunicated the doctors who performed the procedure as well. "God's laws," said the archbishop, dictate that abortion is a sin and that transgressors are no longer welcome in the Roman Catholic Church. "They took the life of an innocent," Sobrinho told TIME in a telephone interview. "Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent. Taking that life cannot be ignored."

The case has caused a furor. Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger, both of which apply in this case. (The girl's immature hips would have made labor dangerous; the Catholic opinion was that she could have had a cesarean section.) When the incident came to light in local newspapers, the Church first asked a judge to halt the process and then condemned those involved, including the 9-year-old's distraught mother. Even Catholic Brazilians were shocked at the harshness of the archbishop's actions. "In this case, most people support the doctors and the family. Everything they did was legal and correct," says Beatriz Galli, the policy associate for Ipas Brasil, an NGO that fights to give women more say over their health and reproductive rights. "But the Church takes these positions that are so rigid that it ends up weakened. It is very intolerant, and that intolerance is going to scare off more and more followers."

Brazilian devotion to the Catholic Church has declined over the past several years. Whereas Brazil was once an almost entirely Catholic nation, only 74% of Brazilians today admit allegiance to Rome, with large numbers, especially the urban poor, having defected to Protestant Evangelical sects. Many more water down their Catholicism with dashes of African religions such as Candomble or spiritist beliefs such as Kardecism. Only recently has the decrease in Catholic affiliation seemingly leveled off.

Evangelicals have not projected a united pro-life platform in Brazil, certainly not one as monolithic as the Catholic Church's. But at least one major sect, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, has taken a stance that showcases its differences with its Catholic rival. The Universal Church's television channel TV Record recently aired spots featuring a woman declaring, "I decided who to marry. I decided to use the pill. With my vote I decided who'd be elected President. I decided to work so that I won't be discriminated against. Why can't I decide what to do with my own body? Women should be able to decide for themselves what's important."

The public-relations campaigns of the Catholic Church's rivals do not impress Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho. He told TIME that the Vatican rejects believers who pick and choose their issues. Rome "is not going to open the door to anyone just to get more members," he said after comparing abortion to the Holocaust. "We know that people have other ideas, but if they do, then they are not Catholics. We want people who adhere to God's laws."

In Brazil, that hard line carries over into public life and government policy. While equally devout neighbors Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay have taken steps to give women more of a say in the matter of terminating pregnancies, Brazilian public opinion supports the status quo, and the country's Congress last year voted overwhelmingly to reject a modest attempt at decriminalizing abortion. The advances that have taken place are mostly local initiatives carried out almost surreptitiously, such as the move by São Paulo states to offer the morning-after pill and heavily discounted contraceptive pills at state-run pharmacies.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva did make a halfhearted attempt to spur a national debate last year, calling abortion a public-health issue — even as he declared himself steadfastly against it. But with the Church quick to stifle such talk and the general public not sufficiently engaged to demand action, the debate never took off. In truth, abortions and unwanted pregnancies are a sad constant in Brazil. Although abortion is illegal, an estimated 1 million women each year have one. The poor are forced into clandestine clinics or take medication, while the better-off are treated by qualified physicians at well-appointed surgeries known to anyone with money and overlooked by colluding authorities.

That secrecy has a price. More than 200,000 women each year are treated in public hospitals for complications arising from illegal abortions, according to Health Ministry figures. Those who don't have the courage or the money to be treated take the pregnancy to term. Although the fertility rate has fallen considerably in Brazil (from 6.1 children in 1960 to about 2 today), 1 in 3 pregnancies is unwanted, according to Dr. Jefferson Drezett, head of the Hospital Perola Byington, Latin America's largest women's health clinic. Meanwhile, 1 in 7 Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 19 is a mother, and the average age at which women have their first child has fallen to 21, from 22.4 in 1996, according to a government-funded study.

Those numbers shock the Catholic Church. But the Church's response to the Recife rape and abortion has shocked public opinion. Some Brazilians hope the controversy may compel the country to deal seriously with an issue that affects so many of its citizens. "Brazil wants to be a world leader, but the government can't guarantee equality for women," says Galli. "This is not a topic that anyone wants to debate."

Excommunicated doctor hailed for abortion on child rape victim

BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) -- A doctor excommunicated by the Catholic Church for performing an abortion on a 9-year-old rape victim received a standing ovation during a national convention on women's health, according to a local media report.

Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho excommunicated the doctors who performed the child's abortion.

The response came during the opening ceremony of an event hosted by Brazilian Minister of Health Jose Gomes Temporao.
The newspaper O Povo reported that Temporao called on the audience to acknowledge the "brilliant" work done by a medical team in the abortion, performed in Brazil's northeastern city of Recife.

The girl was pregnant with twins after being raped, allegedly by her stepfather, police were quoted in media reports as saying. The abuse had gone on since the girl was 6, authorities said.

The abortion was performed March 4 during the fourth month of pregnancy, according to media reports

Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife excommunicated the doctor, the child's mother and the medical team involved in the procedure.

However, the stepfather was not excommunicated, with Sobrinho telling Globo TV that, "A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life."

The child was not excommunicated, Sobrinho said, because Catholic Church law says minors are exempt from excommunication.

"The church is benevolent when it comes to minors," he told Globo TV. "As for the adults, especially those who approved it, performed this abortion, the excommunication is applicable."

"God's law is above human laws," Sobrinho said.

The case has outraged the Brazilian public and fueled a controversy reaching the highest levels of church and state in a nation whose law bans abortion except in cases of rape.

Temporao recently said doctors must put law before religion.

"The question posed is very simple. There is a Brazilian law which states that a pregnancy can be interrupted in case of rape," Temporao said.

"It is legitimate for the church to have its dogmas, but these dogmas must not be imposed on society as a whole," he added.

Earlier, a verbal spat ensued between President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the archbishop over the church's decision.

"As a Christian and a Catholic, I find it deeply lamentable that a bishop of the Catholic Church has such a conservative attitude," Lula said on Globo TV.

"In this case, the medical profession was more right than the church," he said.

Meanwhile, a Vatican cleric told Italy's La Stampa newspaper that he supports the Brazilian archbishop's decision to excommunicate all involved in the abortion except for the child.

Dr. Olimpio Moraes, one of the doctors involved in the procedure, said he thanked the archbishop for his excommunication because the controversy sheds light on Brazil's restrictive abortion laws. He said women in Brazil's countryside are victimized by Brazil's ban on abortion.

Some of the doctors vowed to continue attending church services, despite being expelled.

"The fact that I was excommunicated will not keep me from going to Mass, praying, conversing with God, and asking him to illuminate me and my colleagues in our medical team to help us take care of people in similar cases," one doctor said.

TV Globo reported that the child, who is from a town outside Recife, has stayed in the city to recover and to escape media coverage. Her current condition is not known.

A new report by Brazil's IPAS, a non-governmental organization that works with the health ministry, indicates that more than 1 million women undergo illegal abortions in Brazil each year. About 250,000 are treated by doctors for traumas due to botched abortions, said Beatriz Jalli, an IPAS official.

Studies at a Brazilian hospital dedicated to treating female victims of violence, the Perola Byington in Sao Paulo, indicated that more than 40 percent of the cases involved children.

"This is why the Recife case is so important for women in Brazil," Jalli said.

Jalli said the liberated "Girl from Ipanema" image that many foreigners have of Brazilian women is far from reality.

"We live in a male chauvinistic, patriarchal society with a very high rate of sexual crimes against women and minors," she said. "Our reproductive rights are constantly criminalized."