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Brazil: On the Vatican's condemnation of raped-child's abortion

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Olinda and Recife's archbishop, dom José Cardoso Sobrinho, by Alexandre Severo, published under a Creative Commons license

In the last week of February, a 9-year-old girl of just 79 pounds in weight and height of 1.33 meters, from the lower-middle class and a poor area in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, complained to her mother of severe stomach pains. They went together to a health unit, where they discovered the girl was 15-weeks pregnant, expecting twins. Only then, the girl confessed to her mother that her stepfather had been raping her and her older sister, aged 14, for the last 3 years. The stepfather has been detained and has admitted sexually abusing the girl since she was 6 years old. He may stay in jail until the end of the investigation.

After much opposition from the Catholic Church, a legal abortion was performed by a medical team. Brazilian law bans abortion except in cases of rape (up to the twentieth week of pregnancy), and when there is risk of death for the mother. Her case ticked all the boxes.

Nevertheless, the case has lead to a social battle involving the Roman Catholic Church and the judiciary: supported by the Vatican, the archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Dom José Cardoso Sobrinho, excommunicated the mother, the doctor and the whole medical team responsible for the operation. The girl was spared, as Catholic Church law says minors are exempt from excommunication. The archbishop, however, did not excommunicate the stepfather, and declared that “a graver act (than rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life.”

The news has rekindled the abortion issue in Brazil, and in addition, highlighted the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the personal and judicial decisions of a secular state, stimulating the Portuguese-speaking blogosphere. Sebastião Nunes, in his Responsa de Pedra [pt] blog, says:

É impressionante a hipocrisia envolvida neste julgamento inquisitorial feito pala Igreja Católica. Uma criança violentada em seu corpo e seus direitos, desde os 6 anos de idade, com risco elevado de morrer pela continuação da gestação, tem, conforme a estúpida decisão destes cardeais, que aceitar a beleza do milagre da vida e morrer, se necessário for, pois esta foi a vontade de Deus.

E depois a Igreja Católica não entende porque o povo abandona as suas fileiras. Conforme o julgamento da Igreja foi a vontade de Deus que fez o padrasto da criança estuprá-la covardemente. Triste Deus este.

The hypocrisy involved in this inquisitional trial performed by the Catholic Church is amazing. A raped child in her body and rights, abused since the age of 6, facing a high risk of death if the pregnancy is not interrupted, must accept the beauty of the miracle of life and death if necessary, because this was God's will, as per the stupid decision of cardinals.
And then the Catholic Church will not understand why people leave their ranks. According to the Church's trial, God's will has made the girl's cowardly stepfather rape her. A sad God, this one is.

With a pinch of irony, Lele Teles, on his Technosapiens [en] blog, laments that the cleric has punished a fragile victim right on International Women's Day:

O mais indignante é que no dia internacional da mulher, um senhorzinho religioso aparece para mostrar que o mundo dele ainda é machista, e que machistas deveriam ser o estado e a ciência.

O bispo queria que a menina seguisse grávida de outra menina porque ele diz que defende o direito à vida. Mas como a menina de nove anos de idade corria risco de morte se continuasse com a gestação, logo, subentende-se que o bispo defendia a vida do… estuprador.

The most disgusting thing is that on International Women's Day, a little religious man appears to show that his world is still sexist, and that sexism should dominate the State and science. The bishop wanted the child to bear another child just because he says he supports the right to life. But as the 9-year-old girl was at risk of death if the pregnancy went on, so it is understood that the bishop protected the life of the… rapist.

Vitor Lessa's blog has a publication called Ignorância [Ignorance, pt], and asks if the Catholic Church knows that we live in a secular state, and if they know that not everybody belongs to their institution and many question the points of views ‘suggested’ by the Vatican.

[…] ele [o cardeal] está afirmando que devemos voltar a idade média quando o Estado e a Igreja se confundiam e o clero ditava as regras supostamente estabelecidas por Deus. Quando milhões de pessoas foram queimadas em nome de Deus, quando a igreja dizia que os homens deviam servir a seu senhor feudal porque Deus assim desejava e muitos outros fatos. Em momento nenhum ele pensou que o Brasil não é constituido somente de católicos, que o Brasil é um país laico (sem religião definida) e que os seus habitantes elegeram pessoas que fizeram uma constituição legítima para reger o país e sua população. Em momento nenhum o bispo lembrou que não está na idade média e que, acima da instituição a qual ele pertence, existe um Estado que deve atender às necessidades de todos os seus cidadãos. Afinal, todos são iguais perante a lei e pagam impostos para sustentar a nação. Não pensem que essa é uma atitude isolada de um bispo, é uma postura sustentada pela Igreja católica. A igreja católica não somente é contra o aborto em casos de estupro, mas também contra a lei que protege os homossexuais, que pagam impostos e são juridicamente iguais ao bispo. Portanto, se a igreja aceita que parcelas oprimidas (como as mulheres que são agredidas por seus maridos) sejam protegidas por lei, por que outra parcela como a dos homossexuais não podem ser progida? Afinal, são ou não são todos iguais? A igreja católica também proibe o uso de camisinha ou qualquer método anticoncepcional.

[…]

[…] He [the Cardinal] is saying we should return to the Middle Ages, back when the state and church were together and the clergy disctated the rules supposedly laid down by God. When millions of people were burned in the name of God, when the church said that men should serve their feudal lords just because God wished so, and many other facts. He has never thought that Brazil is not only inhabited by Catholics, that Brazil is a secular country (without a set religion) and its inhabitants have elected a legitimate constitution to govern the country and its people. The bishop has never remembered that we no longer live in the Middle Ages and that, above the institution to which he belongs, there is the State that should meet the needs of all its citizens. After all, everyone is equal before the law and pay taxes to support the nation. I do not think that this is the isolated action of a bishop, it is a stance supported by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not only against abortion in cases of rape, but also against the law protecting homosexuals, who pay taxes and are legally equal to the bishop. So if the church accepts that law protects the oppressed minorities (such as women who are beaten by their husbands), why can't another group, such as homosexuals, be protected too? After all, are we equal or not? The Catholic Church also forbids the use of condoms or birth control methods.

Daniel Braga talks about the issue on his blog Mausoléu do Gargula [pt] in a post called Religious Blindness. In this post, he asks a series of questions that deal with not only the physical conditions of the girl, but the financial conditions and feasibility of someone having two children at the age of 9:

Acredito que uma das piores coisas já inventadas pelo homem é a cegueira religiosa. Observem bem que não estou falando da religião em si, pois esta é realmente importante ao homem, mas sim de dogmas absurdos que acabam causando a cegueira religiosa.

[…]

Surgem algumas perguntas e não vou de forma alguma respondê-las, deixando a todos a tarefa de refletir sobre as possíveis respostas:

  • Será que esta menina conseguirá prosseguir com esta gravidez sem que seu corpo seja mais maltratado do que já está? Poderia esta gravidez ter um risco elevado levando então a morte das crianças, todas as três?
  • Como uma criança poderá criar estas duas crianças?
  • Qual o dano social futuro desta família?
  • Como estará a mente desta pobre criança que deveria estar brincando com bonecas mas que foi o alvo dos abusos de um estuprador?
  • Como será a estrutura familiar que esta menina vive?
  • Como ficaria esta mesma estrutura familiar depois do nacimento destes bebês?
  • Qual deveria ser o papel da religião neste caso? Um papel punitivo ou confortante?
  • Sendo punida, direta ou indiretamente, pelos representantes religiosos, como esta criança se sentirá agora? Será que ela somatizará os problemas jogando em si mesma a responsabilidade do hediondo fato?
I think that religious blindness is one of the worst things man has invented. Note that I am not talking about religion itself, because this is really important to people, but the absurd dogma that eventually causes religious blindness.

[…]

Questions arise and I will not in any way answer them, leaving the task to all of you, so everybody can reflect on the possible answers:

  • Could this girl continue with her pregnancy without her body being more damaged than it is already? Could this high-risk pregnancy lead the children to death, all three of them?
  • How could a child raise these two children?
  • What is the future social damage for this family?
  • How is the mind of this poor child who should be playing with dolls but was the target of abuse from a rapist?
  • How is the structure of the family this girl lives with?
  • How would this same family structure be afterwards, if these babies were born?
  • What should be the role of religion in this case? A punitive role or a comforting one?
  • Being punished, directly or indirectly, by religious representatives, how does this child feel now?
  • Does she have physical problems, is she taking the responsibility on herself of this heinous fact?

Even President Lula has talked about the issue, saying he is Catholic and personally against abortion, but as a head of state he supports the practice in cases like this (and as a health care issue). He has also criticized the Catholic Church's position:

[…] a medicina fez o que tinha que ser feito, salvar a vida de uma menina de 9 anos. […] Como cristão e como católico, lamento profundamente que um bispo da Igreja católica tenha um comportamento, eu diria, conservador como esse.

[…] Medicine did what had to be done, saved the life of a 9-year-old girl, […] As a Christian and a Catholic, I find it deeply lamentable that a bishop of the Catholic Church has such a conservative attitude.

The Catholic Church’s lawyer said that he would file a complaint for murder against the girl’s mother, based on Articles 1 and 5 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantee the inviolability of the right to life. He said that “in addition to considering our religious beliefs, our complaint is tied to the Constitution.” But the public prosecutor [pt] in Pernambuco has spoken about the case:

O Ministério Público de Pernambuco, através da promotora Jeanne Bezerra, está acompanhando junto à Secretaria Executiva da Mulher e à ONG Curumim o caso da garota de nove anos grávida em decorrência de estupro em Alagoinha. De acordo com as informações repassadas à promotora pelo órgão e pela entidade, a garota está recebendo o acompanhamento médico, psicológico e social assegurados pelo Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente. Até agora, não foi necessária a atuação judicial do MPPE. Como a legislação brasileira PERMITE o aborto em vítimas de estupro até a 20ª semana de gestão (entendimento do STJ), o procedimento pode ser realizado de acordo com avaliação médica, INDEPENDE de autorização judicial e, portanto, de parecer do Ministério Público.

The Public Prosecutor of Pernambuco, through promoter Jeanne Bezerra, along with the Executive Secretariat of Women and the NGO Curumim, is following up the case of the 9-year-old girl made pregnant due to rape in Alagoinha. According to information made available by the promoter, the girl is receiving medical, psychological and social care guaranteed by the Child and Adolescent Statute. Until now, no judicial action was necessary from the MPPE [Pernambuco’s prosecutor]. As Brazilian law allows abortion to victims of rape until the twentieth week of pregnancy (according to the STJ [Supreme Court]), the procedure can be performed under medical evaluation, independent of judicial authorization, and therefore of the opinion of the prosecutor.

Most of the reactions on the blogosphere are critical of the Catholic Church’s attitude, but there were a small group of bloggers supporting the Brazilian archbishop's decision to excommunicate all involved in the abortion. Among them, Jorge Ferraz [pt], from Pernambuco, has written an open letter to Dom José Cardoso Sobrinho and received over 100 comments, both supporting him and against the Church's decision. And in another, earlier open letter, Maite Tosta [pt], who is also a mother, says that the Church's decision could not be more correct:

Nesse momento, em que essa menina precisava de apoio, de ajuda, de atendimento médico, psicológico e porque não, espiritual, vozes se levantaram para apontar uma saída “mais fácil”, que querem fazer crer que era a única razoável…

Logicamente, a situação da menina preocupa. Mas e os gêmeos? Não merecem nosso cuidado? Nossa preocupação? A vida humana não-nascida é tão vida quanto a nascida, e merece o mesmo cuidado. Por serem frutos de uma relação violenta, que não deveria ter sido consumada, não são humanos? Quer dizer que um feto é gente quando é desejado, e é coisa quando não o é?

O que é mais fácil para os envolvidos? Dar assistência, cuidar, acompanhar? Ou “eliminar o problema”? Mas… pergunto, mais fácil para quem? Afinal, essa menina vai crescer, não sem marcas deixadas por esse episódio. Apesar de todas as pessoas ao seu redor lhe dizerem que foi melhor assim, que seu corpo não comportava, que era gravidez de risco, que eram crianças frutos de violência e ela não precisava conviver com elas, que a lei não pune… ela sempre terá na sua consciência que consentiu na morte dos próprios filhos… essa é uma memória que não se apaga nunca, e que tem um gosto amargo.

At the moment, when this girl needed support, aid, medical, psychological and why not, spiritual care, voices were raised to point out an “easier” way, they wanted us to believe it was the only reasonable one…

Logically, the situation of the child is worrying. But what about the twins? Don't they deserve our attention? Our concerns? Non-born human life is as much life as in born humans, and deserves the same care. Because they were fruits of a violent relationship, which should not have been consummated, are they not human? Does it mean that a fetus is a person when it is wanted, and when it is not desired it is just a thing?

What is easier for those involved? Providing assistance, care, monitoring? Or “eliminating the problem”? But… I wonder, easier for whom? After all, this girl will grow up, not without marks left by this episode. Despite all the people around her saying that it was better that way, that her body had no condition, that it was a risky pregnancy, that the children were fruits of violence and she did not need to live with them, that the law would not punish her… she will always have on her mind the fact that she consented to the death of her children… this is a memory that never goes, and that has a bitter taste.

Unfortunately, this was not the first nor, probably, the last case of its kind. Another stepfather has been arrested under suspicion of rape [pt], this time in Rio Grande do Sul. The 11-year-old girl is seven months pregnant, has been hospitalized in Rio Grande do Sul and her pregnancy brings the risk of death. The investigations are ongoing in both cases.

20 comments

  • I would like to give special thanks to Paula Góes, brazilian Global Voices Editor, who helped me a lot with this post and managed to edit it in a brilliant way. My very special thanks to you, Paula!

    • Leon

      Thanks for an excellent post.

  • Sharon McEachern

    And people wonder why there are fewer and fewer Catholics around the world! This is a disgusting story. In Brazil abortion is illegal — except in cases of rape and when the mother’s life is in danger. In this case both conditions existed. Yet the Catholic church did not care if the 9-year-old child was raped. Too Bad. Nor did it care if the girl would die. It’s sad, but too bad. The Church excommunicated the distraught mother and doctors who performed the emergency abortion to save the girl’s life. The 80-pound girl could nothave carried twins to full term and still live. But, the rapist will NOT be excommunicated.

    Why are Catholics leaving the rapist alone and allowing him to stay in good-standing with The church? He was the one who caused all this misery.

    Ethic Soup has a theory that makes sense: “The many, many pedophile priests in the Catholic Church must feel a bond with the rapist.” They’re like him. There’s no other explanation that makes any sense. You can read the article at:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/03/abortion-saves-raped-9yearold-girls-life-vatican-excommunicates-furor-among-brazils-catholics.html

    • I agree with you Sharon, and I am glad to say that, at least according to the majority of blogs I read, most of the Brazilian population are just so disgusted. There are a lot of Catholic people, jokingly or not, campaigning to be excommunicated themselves.

    • michael

      hello.God made me to know him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.i was born a catholic.i do not have ANY time for the house in rome.They are not in any situation to advise. how can they when they are all UNMARRIED.this is not natural.They refuse to accept homosexuality as being natural.Try telling the medical proffession, there is scientific evidence to prove that bodily GENES and HORMONES play there part in determining the sexual preference of the individual .I am one of 8 children and have been GAY from birth.From my earliest age of 5, i have always desired the male.At times i was sad not to have fathered kids,but it was NATURAL that i was to be gay.TO those bigots in rome i say.If your able to make love with the opposite sex,go and fulfill your need.to refuse to do so IS NOT NATURAL.Can you see my point of view.???i now live a good life without concern.my mother accepted me as being gay when i was 28.Other opinions have not concerned me.The house of rome appears to be The house of stubborn, misinformed, biggoted, idiotic,uneducated cranks.
      We get one life to live with peace and happiness.
      Go and live it and mind your own business.don’t sit in judgement on others.they have their lives to get on with, without undue interference.
      take time to love.care & stay happy allways

  • You are very welcome Carlos! Congratulations on the first post and welcome to our team of Global Voices stars :) You have a great potential and we are very proud to have you, both here and at Global Voices in Portuguese. Thank you!

  • With the global extent of the clergy abuse crisis in our society and the inability of religions, governments to come together with the people to formulate and implement a unified policy to ensure the safety of children simply displays the failure of all religions and our current governments to adequately respond to normal human needs and brings the need for their continued existence in their current format into question.

    For example; the leading light of Christianity (the Catholic church) is simply unwilling or unable to develop and deploy a single universal policy on child safety and protection in the light of the global clergy abuse crisis. Neither it nor any other religion is able to put aside their differences and disputes to come together to formulate a single policy to ensure the safety and protection of not only the children of their own religion but the children of all religions as well as the children of our society.

    This church and others are unable to achieve balance on these basic human principals in the area of child safety, justice and humanitarian needs – child safety and protection is the prime force found in all humans as the need to protect and ensure the safety of their off-spring. When religions and governments fail in the face of that then they have failed to uphold this most basic of human needs.

    When there is no call from religious or government leaders to come together to provide a unified approach to the safety of children, when there is no working party, commission or national debate then we are simply ignoring our childrens’ needs to such a degree that this singular deficit can only be called failure.

    Universal, total and complete failure in these most basic of human parental responsibilities – social responsibilities which are derived from the most basic of human rights, responsibilities which are near and dear both emotionally and biologically to each and everyone of us through our investment into the future via our children; when the childrens’ rights and needs are put aside due to a plethora of religious needs, religious argument, practices, policies, financial wants or dictates or for whatever reason – regardless of the reason the lack of a singular policy is clearly and simply a comprehensive failure by all in positions of authority.

    Is there room in a society for a religion to be permitted to preach that it holds the key and provides the path to eternal life and to put forth its myriad views in regards all things spiritual, parental, social, sexual and reproductive in our society whilst it is incapable of deploying what is universally understood to be the basis of good parenting and the first basic step or requirement in regards ensuring the protection and safety of children on a wider scale? These are issues for our politicians just as they are issues for each and every adult and parent in our country, these are not issues which should be left in the hands of one or two religions who have failed to achieve successful outcomes in the past and in the present.

    No person respects the current response of the catholic or other church responses to the clergy abuse issue. No person respects the lack of response to this problem by our elected politicians and the leaders of our society.

    Every individual with an interest in humanity can only point out some aspect where these responses can be or needs to be vastly improved or an aspect where church or government has failed itself, Christianity, democracy, human rights and the individual men, women and children of each country on our planet and their future children. This issue is relevant and affects each and every individual one of us. These criticisms are universal and is a universal acknowledgment of failure of both government and religion on the specific issue of ensuring the safety and protection of our children from sexual predation inside and outside of religious dictates or wants.

    What benefits can a failed church or religion bring to our society if it is unable to implement and uphold these few basics for the safety and benefit of our current and future children? What benefit does a mute and immobile government bring the people when it fails to act in the best interests of our children?

    If church and others are unable to bring these few basic human things into our society should we permit them to continue to exist in their current forms? Or should we regulate them until they are able to act consistently in an appropriate manner

  • I’d like to echo Carlo’s words on Paula. She’s really brilliant! Thank you for all the wonderful work you both (Paula and Carlos) are doing at Global Voices em Português!

    By the way, this article will really attract a lot of attention on the Portuguese Global Voices site. The subject is still very hot and there’s heated debate everywhere in the streets about it.

    Best wishes,
    Daniel Duende.

  • aditya

    it is most discusting i have no words to say thats all
    inded n

  • Benjamin

    I am deeply concerned about the recent stances of the Church. I am not even christian, but I am attending a Catholic university. I don’t understand this arrogance, especially as their assertions are not directly supported by the Book. First the holocaust denier, now this; it is making me uncomfortable with my current strong ties to Catholicism. If this is a new direction for the church, and not isolated instances… I just don’t know yet, it is too early to tell what will happen. Maybe the pope will actually step up and start cleaning up these major, international messes. He may not be required to bend to public outcry, but he is obligated to explain the Church’s stance in a way that agrees with the Bible, not ignores it for dogma.

  • Abraham Sadegh

    The most honored responsibility of religious professionals in every faith is to give advice and nothing more.

    Freedom of Choice is God Almighty’s highest gift to and the spark of divine within every single human being and no one has the right to take away the gift.

  • Stephan Peloquin

    As anyone started a petition to excommunicate Jose Cardoso Sobrinho and Giovanni Battista Re, who used to refer at themselves as Archbishop and Cardinal ?
    Recently, the Churh also reintegrated some of those (Archbishop/Cardinal) accused of abusing children in north America. The actual pope also protected this other negationist Archbishop…!!! What is going on with the Church? I was born and raised catholic, but I’m not a practitionner nowadays, so for some of you my opinion won’t even count, but the true believers and practitionners should be worried and ask for the resignation of this pope.

  • Rob Stuart-Vail

    Another nail in the coffin of organized religion! The stepfather should be castrated.

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