Rorate Caeli

The Olinda and Recife Affair
CDF vindicates Archbishop Cardoso

In a brief note published in tomorrow's edition (released today) of L'Osservatore Romano (temporary link - in Italian), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cleared up the grave confusion created by Archbishop Rino Fisichella's scandalous, uninformed, and partial article on the Olinda and Recife Affair.

Clarification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

On procured abortion

Several letters have recently arrived at the Holy See, even from highly placed personalities of the political and ecclesial life, who have informed on the confusion created in several nations, particularly in Latin America, following the manipulation and distortion of an article by His Excellency Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the sad affair of the "Brazilian girl". In that article, which appeared in L'Osservatore Romano, the doctrine of the Church was proposed, even though taking into consideration the dramatic situation of the mentioned girl, who - as it could be pointed out afterwards - was attended with every pastoral care, in particular by the then Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, His Excellency Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho. Regarding this, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirms that the doctrine of the Church on procured abortion has not changed and cannot change. This doctrine was presented in n. 2270-2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in these words:

"Human life must be respected and protected in an absolute manner from the moment of conception. From the first instant of his existence, the human being must have recognized his rights as a person, among which is the inviolable right to life of every innocent being. 'Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee' (Jer 1, 5). 'My bone is not hidden from thee, which thou hast made in secret: and my substance in the lower parts of the earth' (Ps 139[138], 15).

"Since the first century, the Church has declared the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed. It remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is, willed as an end or as a means, is gravely opposed to the moral law: 'Thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born' (Didache, 2,2). 'For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes' (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 51).

"Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church punishes this crime against human life with a canonical penalty of excommunication: 'A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication' (CIC, can. 1398), 'by the very commission [ipso facto] of the delict' (CIC, can 1314) and under the conditions foreseen by the law (cfr. CIC, canons 1323-1324). The Church does not intend to limit the domain of mercy in this manner. This puts in evidence the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable damage caused to the murdered innocent, to his parents, and to all society.

"The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual represents a constitutive element of civil society and of its legislation: 'the inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the State: they pertain to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his of her origin.Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard: every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death. ... The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation must accord them, the State is denying the equality of all before the law. When the State does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a State based on law are undermined. ... As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of his conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights' (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, III)."

In the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this doctrine with his authority of Supreme Pastor of the Church: "By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium" (n. 62).

Regarding procured abortion in some difficult and complex situations, the clear and precise teaching of Pope John Paul II stands: ""It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being" (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, n. 58).

As for the problem of certain medical treatments with the end of preserving the health of the mother, two different cases should be distinguished: on one hand, a procedure which directly causes the death of the fetus, often called inappropriately a "therapeutic" abortion, cannot be any more licit than the direct murder of an innocent human being; on the other hand, a procedure which is not itself abortive may have, as a collateral consequence, the death of the child: "If, for instance, saving the life of the future mother, regardless of her state of pregnancy, would urgently demand a surgical procedure, or other therapeutic measure, which could have, as an accessory consequence, in no way willed by itself, but unavoidably, the death of the fetus, such act could not be called a direct attack against innocent life. In such conditions, the procedure may be considered licit, as other similar medical interventions, as long as a good of great worth, such as life, is involved, and it is not possible to postpone it until after the birth of the child, nor to resort to another efficacious remedy" (Pius XII, Address to the "Fronte alla Famiglia" and the Associazione Famiglie Numerose, November 27, 1951).

Regarding the responsibility of health-care personnel, the words of Pope John Paul II should be recalled: "Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness" (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, n. 89).
(L'Osservatore Romano - July 11, 2009)

Editorial note: Unfortunately, the note does not publicly chastise Archbishop Fisichella for his mistake.

First, there was no "manipulation" of Fisichella's very clear words by the press or by anyone else - those who wrote the first paragraph of this note are being disingenuous by raising this. Second, the truth was only known to him afterwards because he did not even place a mere phone call to his brother, the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife. Nor did he, in a matter of grave doctrinal relevance, seek the opinion of the only dicastery responsible for doctrinal matters: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, not the Secretariat of State. His sloppy and shameful procedure has caused irreparable damage to the cause of life around the world and particularly in Latin America, where it is strongly under attack.

It is embarrassing and scandalous that Fisichella remains president of the Pontifical Academy for Life: even the nunciature in Tehran is too good for him. His continued presence at the helm of a Curial office is an unfortunate blemish in the Pontificate of a very dear Pope.