Monday, March 9, 2009
Recently a nine year old Brazilian girl, who, after complaining of stomach pains was taken to a hospital. There it was discovered that she was four months pregnant with twins, the result of allegedly being raped by her stepfather. Pregnancies at such an early age are rare and there is literally no significant accumulated data on the outcomes of such cases but they are generally considered very high risk pregnancies. Her doctor said, "She doesn't have a pelvis able to support a gestation of twins.''
Although abortion is illegal in Brazil, judges can make exceptions, if the mother's life is in danger or the fetus has no chance of survival. After hearing a report from the child's doctor a judge approved the abortion and it was performed. Fatima Maia, director of the public university hospital where the abortion was performed, said the 15-week-old pregnancy posed a serious risk to the 36-kilogram girl. It's a sad and unfortunate situation that ended in the termination of the pregnancy, but it restored the girl to health.
Enter the Brazilian archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, being the highest ranking cleric of the archdiocese he assumed moral authority over the situation. And upon hearing the news of the abortion, Sobrinho summarily excommunicated all the people involved in the abortion, the girl's mother and the doctors included. The nine year old girl herself was spared, as being too young. But the stepfather, who had been allegedly raping the girl since she was six, was not excommunicated because the church said that his action, although deplorable, was not as bad as terminating the pregnancy.
Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in northeastern Brazil, clarified the Churches position by stating that the girl should have carried the fetuses to term and had a cesarean section.
When hearing of the excommunications, Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, lashed out at the archbishop in outrage. Silva said that it was clear the doctors saved the girl's life by performing the abortion. The excommunications are, no doubt, the result of the archbishop's "conservative attitude."
I see the Church's public excommunications as dramatic demonstration of their desperate desire to maintain their power and control over their followers. It clearly reveals how sensitive and perhaps vulnerable they are to any open defiance of their "moral" authority. The Church figuratively puts "heads on pikes" by excommunicating those who openly defy them. The Church obvious wants to make it crystal clear to their followers that they depend on the Church for their salvation. This is not the gentle hand of Jesus, guiding and persuading us to toward the light. This is outright psychological extortion. Obey or else. Never mind that little girls may die they are expendable.
Church leaders obviously value zombie like conformity to official doctrine more than human compassion. Lucky for the girl her mother and doctors were able to think for themselves.
The Church seems incapable of dealing with any moral dilemma that lies in the gray zone. Ironically, they don't seem to have the moral courage nor the intellectual clarity to deal with any issue that isn't clearly black or white. Humanists in comparison, not being restricted from venturing into the domain of moral relativism, don't have as much difficulty in considering the relative merits of alternatives choices.
From the Vatican, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re made a rather lame attempt to defend the archbishop saying the attacks on Brazil's Catholic Church were unfair.