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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.

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