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Vatican prelate questions handling of Brazilian abortion excommunications

Catholic World News - March 16, 2009

The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, writing in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, has argued that the Brazilian doctors who performed an abortion for a 9-year-old girl pregnant with twins did not deserve public excommunication insofar as they were motivated by a desire to save the girl's life. Archbishop Rino Fisichella affirmed the Church's constant teaching against abortion, but said that that this particular case presented an "arduous decision" for doctors.

Abortion is always wrong, Archbishop Fisichella said. But in such a difficult case, the rush to condemn doctors "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching" because it conveys the idea that the Church does not recognize the suffering of all involved. He recommended instead an approach that emphasizes mercy.

Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife had announced immediately after the abortion that the doctors and the mother of the girl were excommunicated, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law, which stipulates the penalty of automatic excommunication for anyone complicit in abortion. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, strongly defended that announcement. Archbishop Fisichella, in his L'Osservatore Romano article, did not question the automatic canonical penalty, but suggested that the public announcement was unnecessarily harsh.

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