Friday 6 March 2009

Excommunication is an abuse of Church authority

Recently, a nine-year-old girl who was carrying twins, and whose stepfather has admitted raping her, underwent an abortion in March, 2009 despite complaints from Brazil’s Roman Catholic Church. The stepfather has been jailed. It was reported by the police as saying that the stepfather had admitted sexually abusing the girl since she was 6 years old.

Doctors said the nine-year-old girl was 15 weeks pregnant when the abortion was performed in the northeastern city of Recife, where Sobrinho is archbishop. Health officials said the life of the girl — who weighs 80 pounds — was in danger. The pregnancy was discovered last week when the girl fell ill and her mother took her to a clinic. Doctors in the northeastern city of Recife performed the abortion after deciding that the girl could have died if her pregnancy with twins was allowed to continue. According to media reports, the girl was nearly four months pregnant.

A similar case in southern Brazil surfaced Thursday. Authorities in Rio Grande do Sul state told the O Globo newspaper that an 11-year-old girl allegedly raped by her stepfather is seven months pregnant. The 51-year-old stepfather has been in jail since January while the girl is in a hospital for high risk pregnancies and apparently will not have an abortion.

Brazil’s Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao rebuked the archbishop, saying, "I'm shocked by two facts: by what happened to the nine-year-old girl and by the position of the archbishop, who in saying he defends life puts another at risk." He accused the Roman Catholic Church of an "extreme" and "inadequate" position in opposing an abortion for the 9-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather. The Catholic Church's archbishop for the area criticized the decision as against "the law of God" and excommunicated her mother, the doctors and other people involved in the abortion.

Jose Gomes Temporao said on a government radio program. "I believe the position of the church is extreme, radical and inadequate and I am shocked by the radical position of this religion which, wrongly saying it is defending a life; puts another life in danger that is as important as any other."

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, the country with the most Roman Catholics, but judges in Brazil can make exceptions if the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus has no chance of survival. Fatima Maia, director of the public university hospital where the abortion was performed, said the pregnancy, which was in its 15th week, posed a serious risk to the girl, who weighs only 80 pounds. But Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in northeastern Brazil, said the girl should have carried the twins to term and had a Caesarean section. He said, “It’s the law of God: Do not kill.” He also said "The law of God is above any human law." He really meant, the law of the Church.

For an archbishop of the Catholic Church to make a statement that no one has the right to kill another and that a law enacted by human legislators is against the law of God and as such has no value, is in my opinion, ludicrous. For example, the executions of murderers, the pulling of the plug by doctors to end the life of a dying patient or one in a coma and killing enemy soldiers or terrorists are examples where the killing of another human being is common place and readily accepted by society in general and I know of no one who is a Catholic ever suffering excommunication by the church for having ended the life of someone as is mentioned in this paragraph.

Despite this, the archbishop stated that the adults who approved of the abortion and who carried out the nine-year-old girl’s abortion have incurred excommunication." No mention was made of excommunicating the stepfather who had raped the nine-year-old child.

Conspirators to abortions who incur the excommunication can be defined as those who make access to the abortion possible. This certainly includes doctors and nurses who actually do it, husbands, family and others whose counsel and encouragement made it morally possible for the woman, and those whose direct practical support made it possible (financially, driving to the clinic etc.).

Dr. Olimpio Moraes, one of the doctors involved in the abortion, said that the girl's circumstances had met both exceptions to the country's abortion ban. "As doctors, we could not allow a girl of 9 to suffer like this or until she paid with her own life."

Stories like this are not uncommon in Latin America. Family planning counselors from Nicaragua to Argentina report seeing pregnant women from nine to thirteen-years-old regularly. In 2003, international attention was focused on “Rosa,” another nine-year-old in Nicaragua who was also raped and was lucky enough to get a legal abortion. Abortion is now totally illegal in Nicaragua - even for nine-year-old rape victims. A 5-year-old Peruvian girl is recorded in case annals as having given birth to a baby in 1939.

Paulina, a 13-year-old Mexican girl who had been raped in late 1999, was not so lucky. She sought an abortion and was denied. Paulina was subject to several violations of her human rights while pregnant, including the leaking of her condition to anti-abortion forces in the state who then invaded her hospital room with anti-choice propaganda. The local district attorney drove her to the office of a local priest who then also tried to convince her not to have an abortion. In the end, Paulina had a baby. In small part, Paulina’s story resulted in the legalization of abortion in Mexico City. We can now hope that other children who become pregnant will not suffer her fate.

These cases tear at most people’s heart. These are unambiguous reasons for legal abortion for almost everyone - except the Roman Catholic church. For in each of these cases, local bishops have intervened to try and prevent the abortion, to seek criminal charges against health care workers and, when all else fails, to threaten to excommunicate those involved.

The Catholic Church’s religious dogma on abortion can only be classified as nothing else but hogwash when it conflicts with the rights of human beings. This is obvious when you consider the fact that although abortion is illegal in Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other nation, exceptions are allowed in cases of rape and when the mother's life would be endangered by giving birth. Obviously, the nine-year-old girl was raped and her life was in danger but that meant nothing to the archbishop who chose to open his mouth and spray his hogwash in the media by making such asinine statements.

To threaten excommunication to those who abort their children when their lives are in danger, is an insult to humans.

What is meant by excommunication?

Persons who believe that they have been excommunicated must refrain from Holy Communion until both absolution for the sin and absolution for the excommunication has been given.

The way the excommunication for abortion works is this.

Canon 1398 (a religious law) provides that, "a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic excommunication." This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

To actually incur the excommunication one must know that it is an excommunicable offense at the time of the abortion. Canon 1323 provides that the following do not incur a sanction, those who are not yet 16, are unaware of a law, do not advert to it or are in error about its scope, were forced or had an unforeseeable accident, acted out of grave fear, or who lacked the use of reason (except culpably, as by drunkenness). Thus a woman forced by an abusive husband to have an abortion would not incur an excommunication.

One complicating factor for anyone in this situation is that intentionally withholding information of the existence of a mortal sin such as an abortion or knowledge of one's excommunication invalidates all the absolutions (forgiveness by God when confessing before a priest) for other sins given since the time of the intentionally overlooked sin. Culpably withholding mortal sin or an excommunication means that even after the priest says the words of absolution because of dishonesty on the penitent's part, the sin has not been absolved.

The Church makes every effort to make ‘penance’ available to sinners. According to the Catholic Church, there is really no valid excuse for delaying one's full return to the sacraments. For example, all those who have had abortions should come home to Christ and the Church. If that is so, that would make excommunications rather pointless.

I personally believe that excommunication is all nonsense. If I was a Catholic, (which I am not) the Church couldn’t prevent me from praying to God and asking him for absolution. All the Church could do is refuse me the Sacraments and refuse to marry me in a Catholic church or bury in a Catholic cemetery.

Talking to a priest in the ‘confessional’ about one’s problems/sins can be very healing for some people to do so, and I can also see a priest acting as a counselor with great compassion. What makes the confessional an ideal place to confess one’s sins is it is one of the few places where someone can get something off of his or her chest and know that what he or she says remains between the confessor and his or her priest only. For these reasons, I do not fault the church for advocating confessions before a priest in the confessional. Incidentally, such confessions can be held anywhere and not only in a ‘confessional’.

In the Brazilian case, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho noted in an interview with the Brazilian press that the actions of the girl’s mother and her doctors meant excommunication. The church thought that the girl should continue the pregnancy and deliver the child by Cesarean section. The bishop was aware enough of the canons concerning excommunication not to claim that the girl was excommunicated. Canon law prohibits the excommunication of anyone under the age of majority. But, was the bishop correct in his opinion that the “adults” who were involved had “incurred excommunication?”

That assertion is not unlike an attempt by Mexican bishops to excommunicate the legislators in Mexico City who voted to legalize abortion. During an impromptu press conference on Shepherd One, the papal plane, which at the time was on its way to Brazil, Pope Benedict was asked if this was appropriate. “Yes,” he said “the excommunication was not arbitrary; it is part of canon law." More hogwash.

While the lack of compassion Archbishop Sobrinho exhibited is without question, his canonical wisdom is in question. Excommunication of the sort he discussed is not imposed. Rather, it is considered self-admininistered by the person who has committed the act. And if the person believes the action they took was not sinful, but was the most moral alternative in a difficult situation, then no excommunication has occurred. For this mother and the girl’s doctors no decision could have been more moral.

These current events have brought more shame to the Catholic Church that is already rife with the shameful acts of priests who sexually abused young boys by the hundreds. One would think that the Church would be trying to reform itself and get rid of out-dated dogmas that are damaging the Church’s image. It will be a long time before much wiser leaders of the Church realize that if the Church is to keep its followers from fleeing the Church, it has to be more passionate and modernize its way of thinking. Until that happens, Catholics will continue to flee from the dogmas of their Church. As many as 400,000 Catholics between 2006 and 2007 left the Church in the United States alone. The decline of Catholics in Ireland, for decades the Pope’s favourite bastion of faith in Europe, has been regularly predicted.

The problem seems to be the Church itself. Survey after survey says many people world-wide haven’t abandoned God but instead are continuing their private religious practices, such as reading the Bible, praying in their homes and watching religious services on TV or listening to them on the radio. The Catholic Church is seeing what most other Christian churches are experiencing; empty pews.

If the Roman Catholic leaders don’t get with it, not only will there be a continuation of a decline of priests in the Church, but also a continuing decline of followers. It is conceivable that by the end of this century, only the Catholic leaders will be preaching old dogmas to themselves. Everyone else will be living happy lives; free of out-dated dogmas and praying to God in their own way.

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