Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abortion case study: the Brazil raped child

I commented a few days ago that I thought the nine year old girl in Brazil, raped by her stepfather and now pregnant with twins, and of delicate health and no doubt greatly traumatized, should of course be viewed as someone who should be given an abortion since that is what she wants and her doctors concur regarding the risk. She went ahead and had the abortion and now the archbishop has responded. Here is the article and let's use this as a sad but very helpful case study to find some common ground of understanding even if people disagree on the conclusions and principles.


RIO DE JANEIRO - A Roman Catholic archbishop says the abortion of twins carried by a 9-year-old girl who allegedly was raped by her stepfather means excommunication for the girl's mother and her doctors.
Despite the nature of the case, the church had to hold its line against abortion, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said in an interview aired Thursday by Globo television.
"The law of God is higher than any human laws," he said. "When a human law — that is, a law enacted by human legislators — is against the law of God, that law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion have incurred excommunication."

OK, here is the commentary and analysis. Here are the facts:

1) She is a nine year old child.
2) She was not only raped but it was done by a family member, her own stepfather.
3) There is a mother in the household and while we do not know the specifics, a mother has responsibility for knowing whether or not her live in boyfriend or spouse is raping her child.
4) The child wanted the abortion.
5) The doctors recommended that she obtain one due to extreme youth, delicate physical constitution and the stress of bearing not only one baby but two.
6) These were medical doctors at a reputable hospital, not abortion pimps and procurers. That is an important point in my mind.
7) We know that abortions are not mindlessly "pushed" because in the same article we learn of an older child, 11 years old, in the same situation who plans to bring her child to term and birth.
8) We know that the Catholic Church correctly opposes abortion.

Now, before we analyze what is the most defensible and balanced position in this disagreement and remedy, here are the exact words on the Church's doctrine:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person-among which is the inviolable right of every human being to life....(supporting scripture cited)...

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.... (supporting cathesis cited)...

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.... (detailed supporting analysis and canon law cited)....

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.... (more wording emphasizing that the fetus is a life and a person and not some lesser entity, thus it experiences unjust death)...

2275 "One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival"... (more about the immorality of the exploitation for science of embryos or to manipulate custom features in human beings...)

Now, when you read the doctrine of the Church is it very clear, reasonable, scripturally founded and also a doctrine in existence from the time of only one to two hundred years after the time of Jesus Christ himself. Thus one cannot argue with the valid position of the Church.

However... and this is a huge point... as you read this you observe that rape and child molestation are not part of the imagery of the typical abortion situation. The canon law addresses adults who have consensual sex and who decide to abort as a matter of convenience. It is clear by the wording that there is a significant gap in the doctrine, which is to address abortion in cases of rape, child molestation and the endangering of the woman's life as a result of pregnancy. Now, it does not take a genius to realize that the Church would, rightfully, feel that addressing those cases directly would open the door to the logic that "well, it's a human life, but it is 'OK' to take that life in certain circumstances." The Church cannot and will not take that position and we need to respect their constancy and integrity. However, we must also be good shepherds and reasonable. Here is how I would recommend navigating through that dilemma while maintaining moral principle.

I totally agree with the archbishop that the mother (and obviously the raping stepfather, though we notice he's not addressed by the archbishop) bears the brunt of doctrinal punishment, not the child. So I agree with the wisdom of not harming the spiritual and emotional well being of the child by dragging her into the doctrine and, instead, correctly lay blame for the situation with the mother. So I give credit to the archbishop for, however imperfectly in action, discerning that doctrinal blame lies with the parents rather than the child herself.

Let us set aside whether excommunication is correct for a moment since that hinges on the medical advice and actions taken.

If the doctors were employees of abortion providing specialists, rather than a general hospital, I believe that of course excommunication would be entirely appropriate. I do think that Catholic hospitals have a right not to offer abortion at all, and I do believe that Catholics who work in abortion providing mills or other specialized services are abortion "procurers," matching the logic of the catechism and doctrine. However, I believe that the Catholic Church must recognize that abortion is, in secular and civil society, a medical procedure that is going to be practiced where the need is extreme, and that is the key. As I've written before I think that abortion is medically valid in certain circumstances, as sad as it is and the fact that it is a human life that is lost. Thus I would not have excommunicated the doctors unless they were working in a Catholic hospital or they were working for full time abortion specialist providers and procurers. However, as the facts show, rather, these doctors prescribed, reluctantly, out of concern for the life of this very young girl, an abortion as a medical service that they deemed was called for.

We need to look at the example of saints for further information in this regard. Recently a woman was canonized because she would not undergo life saving medical treatment that would have resulted in the termination of her pregnancy. She lived to deliver the baby and then died. The Catholic Church correctly recognizes this example of spiritual heroics and I use the term so that you can think about it. A woman should not be expected to die to deliver a baby; she and her family should choose whether to risk death or not. Many women will choose to take that risk and they are spiritual heroes. This does not mean that other women and of course, especially not nine year old children, should be forced to be spiritual "heroes." They are children, for goodness sakes. Thus I think the eleven year old child who is going to have her baby is a spiritual hero. However, I do not think that heroism of having an incest baby, a baby as the result of rape, or an endangering pregnancy should be forced upon her. This, I believe, is where the Church needs to use more discernment and nuance.

I believe that excommunication should be consciously enacted when we are dealing with, as the Church doctrine puts it, those who have "formal cooperation" and "procurement." These are adult (healthy adult) concepts, not concepts that are so easily applied to the very young and the molested. A child who is raped and who chooses to have the infant is a hero, but that does not make those who do not so choose or who cannot without risking their life or their mental health for the rest of their lives non-heroes. It is a hard reality in life, life that humans have made very complicated by their thoughtlessness, their cruelty and their sin, that something can be both hideously wrong (abortion) yet sometimes be necessary (abortion). One cannot really appreciate God's all knowing and mercy, and ability to fix even the worse of situations, if one does not recognize such a conundrum and deal with it in a realistic way.

Thus I would not have excommunicated the doctors, assuming they are not abortion procurers by profession and that they were, as the article reports, rendering a sad but realistic medical recommendation. If they were abortion procurers, sure, excommunicate them, as they work to legitimize what cannot be legitimized morally or canonically.

I would not have excommunicated the mother because she accepted the advice of doctors. However, I would have explained that she is not in good grace in the Church because she allowed such a situation, the molestation of her daughter, to take place, either knowingly or through neglect of attention and protectiveness. I would have proscribed a cycle of confession and penance and spiritual counseling to remediate her sins of, at least, neglect of the situation in the first place.

I would have delivered full wrath upon the perpetrator: why is he not soundly voiced as a hell bound soul by the Church? I mean, talk about someone who needs even worse than excommunication. The bulk of the verbiage should have been on his head.

Also, as I blogged originally about this case, I would have been low key rather than high profile for this particular case of abortion. Why? Because this poor girl has to grow up with her childhood destroyed already. I believe that the Church should go beyond the "not" condemning her for the abortion, of course, but also have been low key about the entire controversy so that the doctors and her care givers could guide her to spiritually think of the abortion as being akin to miscarriage. Her body simply was not mature enough and safe enough to continue to bear two pregnancies, yes, of full human lives. But this is why in this case it is more akin to miscarriage, a miscarriage after an act of violence. The press should not be loaded with the sinfulness of abortion; that very valid statement should be reserved for the discourse among the mature practitioners and those who procure. It's a bit shameful that the poster child for the legitimate dialogue about abortion is... a child... a child who was raped and violated by her own stepfather. How in the world could anyone think that this is the right "high profile" "take a stand against abortion" case?

Rather, if she had opted to and had been able to bear the children, she should have been trumpeted in the press-and by the Church-as a spiritual hero, of such a tender age and under such cruel circumstances. So I would have said, "Sure, elevate her story and her glory" if she had been able to have the children, either for the family keeping or for adoption. But since she cannot be a "hero," goodness, I would have found other adult abortion promoters to point the finger at, rather than her and her doctors. The Church would also have had great credibility in giving regular fire and brimstone preaching about child rapists. The faithful of this modern time need reminding that not only their willies will be burned off in all eternity for doing such to a child. I would have ordered extra bottles of ink for all the press I would have given to that subject, to the perpetrator (the stepfather) and the at least clueless and unprotective wife and mother of the victim.

The truthful conundrum of the middle ground sure is an uncomfortable place, but that is the problem of life and death, and the material world. Be careful, though, not to jump on the Catholic doctrine and call it insensitive or in error, for it is not. The Catholic Church continues to hold the gold standard in its doctrine, particularly the sanctity of life. The trouble is that the Catholic Church is very reliable and glorious in "keeping up the standard of the good," but the problem is that the Church, like the rest of society, has trouble keeping up with the evil. By this I mean that the doctrine is written with consenting adults who procure abortions in mind, and not with the thoughtfulness regarding spiritual heroics, of the young, those pregnant through incest and violence. It's brushed over not for a nefarious reason but because for centuries abortion was a problem of adults, not children. When the Catechism is next updated I would like to see more regarding comforting those who are in the position where heroics may be called for, and more focus on confession and penance where heroics, sadly, cannot take place by reasonable people. This by no means would undermine that life is always life and sacred. Mercy and options are not a "slippery slope," even though cheap arguments depend on the slippery slope fear and, its converse, the illogic of citing the slippery slope as justification. Life can still be life, the embryo still sacred and protected, yet the implications and nuances of the growing, rather than lessening, of evil options that humans seem to impose on each other and ways that people can be healed rather than further wounded as they walk that thorny road of necessity.

I hope that you have found this helpful, particularly those of you who have grappled with this dilemma and who have only seen the two, in theory, opposing sides. "Jesus would want it that way." Remember, Jesus was merciful to all, but "hell on wheels" regarding those who abuse children or lead them to sin. He would have been condemning the perpetrators from the pulpit and on the street (and in the hypocritical media) a hundred times more often than causing more pain for the violated child regarding the abortion itself. He'd be condemning perpetrator and the enabling members of the family and looking to root out all the other brutes like this from the pulpit, mark my words, he would. The Church should not allow shame over its own sex abuse problem (and those among the other faiths too) to silence it from condemning child abuse in many, many homilies, and reminding people of the very real penalties in eternal perdition. He'd not want the child dragged through the press or the poster child for the general abortion debate and horror in our modern times, goodness, of course not. We can talk about the millions of adults, not the few young, weak, the victims who suffer and who must, medically, make this difficult decision. The Church is actually very good at counseling adults who have had abortions, with worthy programs to accomplish this. People need to understand that they fall naturally into a state of grave sin with abortion, whether anyone knows about it or not, since God knows, and they should seek out such programs to comfort and advise them to feeling more authentically part of the fold again.