In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa a few days later, Cardinal Re (left), Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, supported the Archbishop, saying "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian Church is unjustified." However, in an article on 15 March in L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Rino Fisichella (right), President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, attacked Archbishop Sobrinho, saying that the girl "should first of all have been defended, embraced, comforted", that it was all a very difficult decision, and, addressing her, "There are others who deserve excommunication and our forgiveness, not those who allowed you to live." The article implied that the case had become public because of Archbishop Sobrinho's statement about the canonical penalty.
Several senior priests from the Diocese of Recife responded immediately with a statement making various salient points, notably that the case had already become public before the Archbishop had issued his statement, that Fisichella had not contacted his brother Archbishop in advance of writing the article, and that the Church's teaching is quite clear on the matter. Most importantly, they repudiated the implication that the girl had not been afforded pastoral care. The section of the statement on this deserves to be quoted in full:
2. All of us - beginning with the parish priest of Alagoinha (undersigned) - treated the pregnant girl and her family with all charity and tenderness. The Parish priest, making use of his pastoral solicitude, when aware of the news in his residence, immediately went to the house of the family, in which he met the girl and lent her his support and presence, before the grave and difficult situation in which the girl found herself. And this attitude continued every day, from Alagoinha to Recife, where the sad event of the abortion of the two innocent [babies] took place. Therefore, it is quite evident and unequivocal that nobody thought in "excommunication" in the first place. We used all means at our disposal to avoid the abortion and thus save all THREE lives. The Parish priest personally joined the local Children's Council in all efforts which sought the welfare of the child and of her two children. In the hospital, in daily visits, he displayed attitudes of care and attention which made clear both to the child and to her mother that they were not alone, but that the Church, represented by the local Parish priest, assured them of the necessary assistance and of the certainty that all would be done for the welfare of the girl and to save her two children.Clearly there is a major problem here, not only the fact that an Archbishop in a most difficult position, faced by a hostile anti-clerical press was put out to swing in the wind, but also the hazy approach to the morality of abortion from a senior Vatican official - in charge of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
3. After the girl was transferred to a hospital of the city of Recife, we tried to use all legal means to avoid the abortion. The Church never displayed any omission in the hospital. The girl's parish priest made daily visits to the hospital, traveling from the city which is 230 km [140 mi] away from Recife, making every effort so that both the child and the mother felt the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who seeks the sheep who need most attention. Therefore, the case was treated with all due care by the Church, and not 'sbrigativamente' [summarily], as the article says.
Enter Monsignor Michel Schooyans (left), a member of three Pontifical Academies: the Academy of Social Sciences, the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and - more to the point - the Academy for Life. (In 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the preface to his book "L'Évangile face au désordre mondial.") On 11 June, he wrote an article on "The Recife Affair", an English translation being published by LifeSite News (See: Complete Article on "The Recife Affair"). This is the article that Magister has picked up and commented upon with his trustworthy knowledge of Vatican affairs. Quite justifiably, Magister calls the article by Schooyans "a blistering indictment".
Schooyans analyses the various errors and misinterpretations in Fisichella's article, effectively expanding and developing several of the points made by the priests of Recife and adding others of his own. He goes on to point out the serious divisions in the Church that are highlighted by the affair. He asks why Fisichella took no notice of the statement by Cardinal Re, he criticises L'Osservatore for failing in its mandate by allowing through a text that is inaccurate and doctrinally dubious, and he expresses a number of serious concerns regarding the Pontifical Academy for Life.
He also asks three pertinent questions: Did the Fisichella article receive the prior approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Was the article published with the approval of other Vatican authorities? (in particular the Secretariat of State); What is envisaged in terms of corrections to Fisichella's article?
Schooyans concludes his article as follows:
To recap, faced with the turbulence provoked by Fisichella’s article, there is, it appears, only one real solution: a strong statement from the Holy Father. Fisichella’s article has created a general doubt concerning the “legitimacy” of abortion. However, it is uncertain whether, in Rome, the gravity of the situation created is sufficiently perceived. Yet the doubt is now being passed on to the universal Church, reinforced by two factors: the senior position of the article’s author, and the unofficial nature of the periodical publishing it. If the Pope says nothing, the doubt will persist and we will see a repetition of what is happening today with "Humanae vitae" (1968)This is all heady stuff and quite disconcerting for those of us slogging away at the coalface. It is apposite to recall the quotation from Newman which I posted a couple of weeks ago:
Now, the Rock of St. Peter on its summit enjoys a pure and serene atmosphere, but there is a great deal of Roman malaria at the foot of it.Nevertheless, the malaria seems to be wafting up from the foothills to one or two higher staging points. We do need to pray for the Holy Father at this time. As I have mentioned before, St Vincent Ferrer taught that in the case of the Holy Father, prayer is not a general remedy as it might be for any other individual: it is an appeal to his immediate superior since he has no superior on earth.
The Holy Father needs our prayers because doubt has been created by the Fisichella article and it has the potential to cause damage throughout the Church. This is not simply a pro-life worry: speaking for "Catholics for Choice", Frances Kissling said that Fisichella
"has opened a crack, through which women, doctors and political decision-makers can slip in."In the meantime, Mgr Ignacio Barrereiro and Raymond de Souza travelled to Brazil to present Bishop Sobrinho with the Von Galen award on behalf of Human Life International. The event was attended by 2000 well-wishers. Here is a link to a Special HLI Report and here is the YouTube video: