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Sunday, March 8, 2009


A nine year old girl complains to her mother of stomach pains. Mom takes her daughter to the hospital, and they find out she's 4 months pregnant with twins. How? The girl reveals that her stepfather has been sexually abusing her for years, along with her 14-year-old sister. The stepfather is arrested, while trying to get out of the city. The hospital says that as the girl weighs only 80 pounds, the pregnancy could be dangerous. As it's a case of both health risks and rape, it's a perfectly legal abortion, and Mom decides to let the doctors abort the twins.

Somehow word gets out to the local Catholic church. The next day, the mother and the two doctors she worked with are excommunicated. The stepfather though is not excommunicated. The local archbishop says that even though the stepfather committed a heinous crime, "the abortion- the elimination of an innocent life – was more serious."

This happened in Brazil this week, but it feels like it could have happened anywhere. The Vatican got involved yesterday and affirmed the decision of the archbishop. Cardinal Giovanni Re said, "It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

The real problem. It boggles my mind and infuriates me as a former Catholic to see my church now so focused on abortion that the rape of a 9-year-old girl by her stepfather is less of a problem than the removal of his seed from her body. His rape is less of a sin than allowing her to return to her childhood without his children inside her.

The Catholic Church doctrine on dangerous pregnancies is that a Caesarean section is always an alternative to abortion. However, C-sections are healthiest at full-term pregnancy. So, in effect, the church was suggesting that the nine-year-old should have borne her father's seed for another half a year, and for having not chosen that, the mother and doctors are greater condemned than the father.

The church's decision is madness shrouded in logic, absent of any compassion for human beings dealing with horror.

It's not clear how far this case will go. No article I've read so far speaks to the nuances of excommunication. In one story, one of the doctors said that he would continue going to mass afterwards, but going to mass is usually not forbidden by an excommunication. Usually, excommunication forbids you from taking part in sacraments except for Reconciliation, but you can still attend Mass. In fact, it's encouraged. Only in its more extreme versions does the church completely shun the excommunicated.

The next question becomes what kind of reconciliation the church will demand. Should these people say that what they did was wrong? That they should have allowed the nine-year-old to carry twins for another five months? And what of the father? What will be demanded of him by the church? The Vatican says that rape is inherently evil and incest even more so. Yet the father will be welcomed to Communion in his Brazilian jail cell, and the mother turned away.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Here the threat is not only to justice, but to common sense and compassion. What happened in Brazil was the destruction of both a family and a child's innocence, and the church's actions have only made matters worse. Our duty is to heal the broken before we judge them.