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Vatican archbishop defends doctors in lifesaving abortion

Upholds church ban but opposes excommunication

By Frances D'Emilio
Associated Press / March 16, 2009
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VATICAN CITY - An influential prelate said Brazilian doctors didn't deserve excommunication for aborting the twin fetuses of a 9-year-old child who was allegedly raped by her stepfather because the doctors were saving her life.

The statement by Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican newspaper yesterday was highly unusual because church law mandates automatic excommunication for abortion. Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, also upheld the church's ban on abortion and any implications of his criticism of excommunicating the doctors and the girl's mother weren't clear.

Fisichella argued for a sense of "mercy" in such cases and respect for the Catholic doctors' wrenching decision, and strongly criticized fellow churchmen who singled out the doctors and mother for public condemnation.

"Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the church should be expert and masters in proclaiming," Fisichella wrote.

The doctors, Fisichella noted, had said the child's life was in danger if the pregnancy continued. "How should one act in these cases? An arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself," Fisichella wrote, urging respect for the inner "conflict" that the Catholic doctors must have suffered before deciding on the abortion.

Earlier this month, the archbishop of Recife, where the child and her family lives, made a public announcement about the excommunication, which is the church's most severe penalty. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a top Vatican official, has supported the archbishop.

But Fisichella criticized the archbishop's public denunciation, writing that the girl "should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction."

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