A SENIOR Archbishop has insisted that Brazilian doctors do not deserve excommunication for aborting the twin foetuses of a nine-year-old child who was allegedly raped by her stepfather because the doctors were saving her life.
The statement by Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican newspaper yesterday was highly unusual because church law mandates automatic excommunication for abortion.
Archbishop Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, also upheld the Church's ban on abortion and any implications of his criticism of excommunicating the doctors and the girl's mother weren't clear.
Archbishop Fisichella argued for a sense of "mercy" in such cases and respect for the Catholic doctors' wrenching decision, and strongly criticised fellow churchmen who singled out the doctors and mother for public condemnation.
"Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the church should be expert and masters in proclaiming," he wrote.
The doctors, he noted, had said the child's life was in danger if the pregnancy continued.
"How should one act in these cases? An arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself," the Archbishop wrote, urging respect for the inner "conflict" that the Catholic doctors must have suffered before deciding on the abortion.
Earlier this month, the archbishop of Recife, where the child and her family lives, made a public announcement about the excommunication, which is the Church's most severe penalty. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a top Vatican official, has supported the archbishop.
But Archbishop Fisichella criticised the archbishop's public denunciation, writing that the girl "should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction".
He stressed abortion was always "bad", but said the quick proclamation of excommunication "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy".
The Vatican teaches that anyone performing or helping someone to have an abortion is automatically excommunicated from the church, and the Vatican prelate underlined that abortion was "always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act".
"There wasn't any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically," Archbishop Fisichella wrote.