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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hard cases

The news around blogdom is of B16's letter to bishops on the way he handled de-excommunicating the SSPX bishops, but I thought instead I'd post something else about the story of the nine year old Brazilian girl who was pregnant with twins through rape, who had an abortion at her doctors' advice, and whose mother and doctors were then excommunicated by the local archbishop, who was backed up by the Vatican.

I've not seen many posts about this story in the Catholic blogosphere and one of the reasons given for why it's not worth discussing is that it's unusual and that "hard cases make bad law". I think this attitude is wrong, and as the most recent Tablet editorial - Casting stones in Brazil - points out .....

Hard cases make bad law. Such a thought may even have gone through the mind of Jesus when they brought before him a woman taken in adultery. Mosaic law required her execution by stoning; not to enforce it might be seen as condoning the sin and setting a bad example to others. In the Brazilian case, furthermore, there were two innocent foetuses, which an abortion would kill. Nevertheless, Jesus' response displayed a profound compassion that seems absent in this case. He did not condone the woman's behaviour; he told her to sin no more. But the rest of his remarks ask searching questions of the Catholic Church in Brazil and elsewhere. Down the generations, has it allowed and condoned a misogynistic attitude on the part of men that has led to the widespread sexual exploitation of girls and women and resulted in tragedies like this? Is it entirely "without sin", and should it therefore be "casting the first stone"?

Here's an update on the story that I saw at U.S. Catholic's blog ......

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Hard cases, part 3

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Bryan Cones

The bishops of Brazil have finally done something right on this terrible case. (See my previous posts on this story: part 1 and part 2.) According to the Catholic News Agency, the leadership of the Brazilian national conference of bishops has condemned the child abuse that led to the pregnancy of the nine-year-old girl, who underwent an abortion earlier this week over church objections.

This condemnation of her stepfather's behavior should have been the first thing out of the mouth of her local bishop, who stirred up this controversy. Unfortunately we've had to wait five days for bishops to state the obvious: The source of this whole problem is the morally outrageous, damnable behavior of her stepfather.

No matter what you think about the morality of the final decision to end the child's pregnancy, I think this case highlights the importance of thinking broadly about "life" issues. Issues of direct killing, such as abortion, certainly have pride of place, but child abuse and rape--which always kill spiritually if not physically--certainly deserve attention, especially if the church means what it says about the human dignity of women and girls.

But I also think it asks of us some serious moral thinking and praying: If the girl had been compelled to carry her unborn children to term, what if her uterus had ruptured and she died? What if her children died anyway? What if she miscarried and was left unable to have children in the future? These all seem likely outcomes for a 9-year-old body. Such questions deserve not only our intellectual moral reflection but prayerful silence before the gravity of the situation.

Even with a moral issue as clear as abortion, there can be problematic gray areas that could vex even the most well-formed consciences. I for one pray never to face such a circumstance. We should be wary of judging them too quickly, especially when we consider Jesus' own words on the danger of judging others.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Well, that was one of the things I was tempted to bring up last time, and I glad he addressed it as such...

This condemnation of her stepfather's behavior should have been the first thing out of the mouth of her local bishop, who stirred up this controversy. Unfortunately we've had to wait five days for bishops to state the obvious: The source of this whole problem is the morally outrageous, damnable behavior of her stepfather.

No matter what you think about the morality of the final decision to end the child's pregnancy, I think this case highlights the importance of thinking broadly about "life" issues. Issues of direct killing, such as abortion, certainly have pride of place, but child abuse and rape--which always kill spiritually if not physically--certainly deserve attention, especially if the church means what it says about the human dignity of women and girls.


It was such a colossal pastoral blind spot on the part of that bishop. I found myself wondering why this was a story about excommunications over abortion, and why it wasn't a story about the worldwide scourge represented by the sexual slavery of women and children around the world, which affects hundreds of thousands at the very least. Probably millions. Why not blanket excommunications for such "stepfathers" (as they so often are, unfortunately), or any of these other guys who are trafficking or pimping people out in some way.

I'm unapologetically pro-life, I want to see a culture of life, but I understand the back alley problem too. I have two teenaged daughters of my own. They believe what Anne and I believe, but I also have to consider what it would be like if they made a mistake and died at the hands of some hack because they were afraid to tell us something.. because they were afraid to disappoint me and their mother.

I'm hoping this is a president who can help to turn down the stridency and the volume on these issues, but it looks like it isn't going to shape up that way.

4:20 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

It is weird too given that the case was about child abuse and the church has a history of covering up priest pedophilia. I myself have a very hard time believing the church heirarchy care about females as real people and this kind of story doesn't help.

You don't think Obama will find a middle ground? I think from what I've read at Catholic logs, that people had an unrealistic expectation about what he'd do about reproductive health issues. He is a democrat, pro-choice, and Bush passed a lot of restrictive legislation that was unfair to women. I don't see how he could not repeal stuff like gag orders and 'conscience clauses' and restricting gov money for clinics and still be a democrat.

But still he seems more sensitive to religious concerns than some other democrats might have been.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

But if these "twins" were full persons since conception, then this is murder.That is what the Church says. Actually there is great agreement on abortion, but all we hear from are the extremes.Only extreme religious people are Totally pro-life (about 10 percent) and only about 20 percent are totally pro-choice. Does anyone think this through or do people just run around yelling "murder" and "my body."--The two extremes rejected by a hugh majority. I'd better stop or another poem:) Jack

5:10 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi, Crystal --

I enjoyed the Tablet article, thank you. It mentioned that the stepfather (fittingly) was in jail, which filled in the gaps a bit.

I'm not so sure Obama can calm that controversy. Just recently the Seattle Archdiocese asked all the parishes to write postcards to Obama about the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Wikipedia says “declares that it is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child; terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability; or terminate a pregnancy after viability when necessary to protect her life or her health.”

This legislation went nowhere under Bush, after its introduction into both houses of Congress. Again, from Wikipedia, FOCA was "referred to the Judiciary Committees of the respective Houses. Neither bill received further action in the 108th Congress. The bills were reintroduced in the 110th Congress, but, like their predecessors, were referred to committee without further action. As of January 2009, the bills have not been introduced in the 111th Congress."

But Obama did say, on the campaign trail, that "the first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act," although there's been no move as yet by his Administration to move this forward. Still, the Church is concerned about his history and his statement. You might say that the postcard campaign was a "shot across the bow."

I've preferred to believe in his approach to lower the number of abortions by offering pregnant women more support when they might need it. And I hope that will make a difference not just in those numbers -- but in making this national issue more of a needed conversation about our values.

And yeah, I agree with Jeff in noting that the hierarchy often seems to have trouble stating the obvious. I just hope that there was some unreported pastoral response on the parish level!

12:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

I guess I'm an atypical Catholic as I see FOCA as not bad in that it strives to keep medical decision-making in the hands of doctors rather than religion. Women and fetuses are sort of pitted against each other and the church has solidly put itself on one side ..... the church in Brazil was filing a suit to disallow the little girl from having the abortion, even though the doctors said that to carry the twins would probably kill her.

The bishop in Brazil was quoted in a TIME article as saying ... Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent.

I'm not an advocate of abortion - I doubt anybody is - but when women and even little girls are deemed les worthy of life than fetuses, I tend to worry.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi again --

Most people -- including a lot of Catholics -- would agree with you about keeping medical decision-making in the hands of the doctors and their patients.

I found it hard to believe that the Church would actually file suit against the girl and her doctors. I think that the medical situation matters vary much -- such as, is there some actual point when the pregnancy becomes life threatening, and for what medical reasons (and do we really know enough about this to have a solid opinion)?

It's hard to even imagine what this pregnancy has done to that young girl -- on top of the abuse.

2:47 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I read somewhere that the church in Brazil had started legal means to stop an abortion but I can't find the article now. This TIME article says the church tried to get a judge to stop the abortion ....

The case has caused a furor. Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger, both of which apply in this case. (The girl's immature hips would have made labor dangerous; the Catholic opinion was that she could have had a cesarean section.) When the incident came to light in local newspapers, the Church first asked a judge to halt the process and then condemned those involved, including the 9-year-old's distraught mother.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Crystal,

This 'dancing around'on this issue is absolutely hilarious. Reminds me of Jonathan Swift. Jack

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Folks,

Denny, I can certainly believe that the Church would file suit against the girl and her doctors, after all look at the Church's response to the sexual abuse problems here in the States: move the abuser, deny that he did it, fight it in the courts, everything it could to try and look good. And I have yet to see a bishop condemned for what he did.

The second point is that given the above I have a hard time believing that a bishop can be fully credible when he stands up and condemns a layperson for sexual abuse. "Do as I say, not as I do" just doesn't hack it. I need to see some real action, not just words.

Third, I think that if one is really opposed to abortion, then a cesarean section might have been an option. I suspect it was not for her family because of financial reasons, but why could not the Church have offered such support? I leave it as a possibility that the bishop might have, and it was not reported.

Fourth, I still believe that this story has gotten such widespread coverage is because it involves abortion. Had it only been about a girl being raped by her stepfather I seriously doubt that it would have been such a big story. I hope I am wrong, but I think that perhaps the answer to the TABLET's question of whether the Church might have "allowed and condoned a misogynistic attitude on the part of men that has led to the widespread sexual exploitation of girls and women" turns out to be a resounding yes!

Mike L

6:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack,

I'm not sure what you mean.

6:40 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I agree with you.

I did read that the archbishop suggested a C section. But perhaps carrying the twins to the age that they could be removed would have been too dangerous for the little girl. At any rate, I think that the archbishop is not a doctor and should have trusted the doctor's opinion.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Crystal,

I just can't explain. But what do you think of a non-catholic reading this? They wouldn't believe it:) Jack

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here again, we really lack information. As I read the news article the doctors said that they did not think that she could carry the babies to term. So I really have no idea of what their opinion might have been in terms of carrying the twins to the point that they could be safely delivered by cesarean section.

As I said earlier, I have some questions that will never be answered about the mother's role in the whole thing. The news article implied that the abuse had been going on for years, and I wonder that the mother never realized it or did anything about it. I also wonder if the mother might not have insisted on the abortion rather than a c-section, for either financial or other reasons.

The only two things that I am sure of is that the step father certainly belongs in jail, and the whole incident was indeed tragic.

Love and hugs,

Mike L

8:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Don't know if I mentioned before that I was sexually abused by my first stepfather when I was 5. My mom knew about it - I told her and he admitted it - but she still let him live with us for like a year or so more. Families with these kind of problems are like cans of worms - so many things are woven together like whether the mother could afford to leave the husband, whther everyone can stand the family to be broken up, one member maybe going to jail, the mental health of everyone involved. It's a mess.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

I don’t know if the facts of this case are essential to this discussion. None the less, I think this discussion is extremely important. For most of my adult life I was not a Catholic. I became a Catholic despite the Church's position on abortion and birth control. These issues are not central to my faith nor do they seem to have any bearing on my commitment to the Church. What I do not doubt is that many many abortions are performed by medical professionals in complete good faith to protect the life and health of the mother. The Church’s objections to this seem utterly irrational to me; the arguments presented in defense of this doctrine seem tortured and somehow loveless. Further, that the Church cannot acknowledge the need for these medical procedures really seems cripple her ability to speak credibly to the broader issues of life. Ultimately I think the Church must cede this very grey area to the sovereign wisdom of mothers and a conscientious medical profession and that will be a good thing. It is striking though that the very persons who are standing for this little girl are the ones who are excommunicated. I cannot see Christ’s hand in this. Crystal I know this kind of discussion is not your usual fair and is clearly painful for you personally. I really appreciate your willingness to provide this forum and am very interested in what others have to say on the matter.

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Morning Crystal. I was aware that you had been abused, but it had slipped my mind during this discussion. And I am aware of what kind of a mess exists in families where this happens. For those of us who have not directly experienced such abuse, I think we may KNOW of the problems, but probably never really UNDERSTAND the pain and hurt. It is too easy for us to find easy solutions like "she should have kicked him out", she should have called the police", etc. I try not to fall into such traps, but from time to time stick my foot into one anyway. Thank you for reminding me!

I want to thank you, along with Richard for fostering this discussion. I hope each of us will leave it with a bit more understanding, a bit more knowledge, a bit of realization that the subject is not black and white but rather very complex. Thanks Crystal!

Love and Hugs,

Mike L

7:53 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, you guys. I nver really have any plans for a forum for discussion, just post whatever stikes me at the moment, but it is interesting to see everyone's views.

10:43 AM  

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