Saved a child's life? Bad Catholic!

A Brazilian archbishop excommunicates the people who procured an abortion for a 9-year-old rape victim.

Published March 6, 2009 2:14PM (EST)

As Tana Ganeva at Alternet put it: "This is probably the most repugnant thing you'll read all day, week, month, or ever." A nine-year-old girl in Brazil was raped by her stepfather -- repeatedly, from the time she was six years old -- and became pregnant with twins. The pregnancy was terminated. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but the law makes exceptions in the case of rape or risk to the mother's life, both of which applied here. As the doctor who performed the procedure told The Irish Times, "She [the girl] falls within the two and, as a doctor, I could not let a girl of nine years be submitted to this suffering and even pay with her own life."

If there can be a good part of this horrible story, that's it: The doctors had her best interests at heart and did what was necessary to protect her health, so at least we're not now talking about a pregnant child who could be killed by giving birth. A nine-year-old girl weighing 80 pounds is not physically built to carry a pregnancy to term, let alone emotionally prepared to bear the children of her rapist. That seems obvious enough -- to everyone except one Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho, who has declared that the girl's mother and all the medical professionals involved in helping her end the pregnancy are excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho's quick to remind us all that he's not the one doing the excommunicating here, just pointing out that abortion triggers an automatic -- latae sententiae -- excommunication. "I did not excommunicate anyone, just remembered the church's law which says they are automatically excommunicated," he says. The girl's mother and doctors would presumably be excommunicated under the second part of canon law 1329, which says, in a nutshell, that all accomplices to an excommunication-worthy offense automatically get the boot as well. The fact that the procedure was both legal -- even in a country with strict anti-abortion laws -- and medically necessary to save the life of a child is irrelevant, according to Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho. "God's law is above whatever human law. So when a human law is contrary to God's law, this human law has no value."

Yeah, here's the problem with that: Canon law 1398, which states, "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication." And Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho has also made it clear that he's not saying the little girl is excommunicated, for pete's sake! What kind of a monster do you take him for? Surely, in this case, God's law doesn't mean what God's law says! It only means what it says when I say it does, dummy! I guess it's safe to assume that in Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho's interpretation of Catholic doctrine, presuming to speak for God is somehow wholly unrelated to the sin of pride.

In case all that's not repugnant enough by itself, consider one more thing: Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho has apparently made no mention of the girl's stepfather, who's confessed to raping her. People who helped save a little girl from physical and emotional suffering, and possibly death? Bad Catholics! God disapproves! Child rapists, on the other hand? Well, historically, those have been some of the most distinguished members of our organization. God works in mysterious ways, you know.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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