SHE’S A 9-YEAR-OLD GIRL…. The crime was heinous beyond description. The Catholic Church’s response literally added insult to injury.
The case of the pregnant 9-year-old was shocking enough. But it was the response of the Catholic Church that infuriated many Brazilians.
Archibishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of the coastal city of Recife announced that the Vatican was excommunicating the family of a local girl who had been raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, because they had chosen to have the girl undergo an abortion. The Church excommunicated the doctors who performed the procedure as well. “God’s laws,” said the archbishop, dictate that abortion is a sin and that transgressors are no longer welcome in the Roman Catholic Church. “They took the life of an innocent,” Sobrinho told TIME in a telephone interview. “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. Taking that life cannot be ignored.”
In Brazil, abortion is only legal in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is threatened. In the case of this 9-year-old girl, both standards were met — doctors concluded that the girl’s immature hips made childbirth exceedingly dangerous, prompting church officials to argue that she be forced to carry the baby to term and then have a cesarean.
And yet, the church wouldn’t stop, and embraced as harsh a line as possible. Church leaders condemned a judge for following the law. They lashed out at the doctors treating the victim. Church leaders even excommunicated the girl’s distraught mother.
“In this case, most people support the doctors and the family. Everything they did was legal and correct,” says Beatriz Galli, the policy associate for Ipsas Brasil, an NGO that fights to give women more say over their health and reproductive rights. “But the Church takes these positions that are so rigid that it ends up weakened. It is very intolerant, and that intolerance is going to scare off more and more followers.”
Outside of the immediate horror of this tragedy, that last point is what the church seems oblivious to. Brazilians are shocked by the church’s conduct in this terrible ordeal, but Catholic leaders couldn’t care less. Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho told Time, “We know that people have other ideas, but if they do, then they are not Catholics. We want people who adhere to God’s laws.”
A lot of phrases come to mind when describing all of this, but “pro-life” isn’t one of them.