Brazil Abortion Controversy Continues

Msgr. Michel Schooyans
Msgr. Michel Schooyans (photo:

It’s a legal axiom that hard cases make for bad law.

In the case of the 9-year-old Brazilian girl whose unborn twins were aborted earlier this year, a hard case has also triggered a serious dispute between the girl’s local bishop, Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Archbishop Cardoso condemned the abortion and declared that the girl’s mother and the doctors who facilitated it had excommunicated themselves by their actions. Archbishop Fisichella, in a subsequent L’Osservatore Romano article, suggested the abortion might have been morally permissible and said the archbishop had not chosen the best course in responding to the abortion.

Sandro Magister reports at his website that the archbishops’ public dispute about the girl’s abortion is not going away. Archbishop Cardoso, who says Archbishop Fisichella’s comments were wrong both in terms of morality of the abortion and factually in stating that his archdiocese did not take action to support the girl, has requested L’Osservatore Romano allow him to publish a rebuttal. The Vatican newspaper so far has declined to do so.

Magister also reports that the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife may undertake canonical action against Archbishop Fisichella over his public criticism of the archdiocesan response to the 9-year-old’s abortion:

In early June, the Brazilian archdiocese delivered to the highest Vatican authorities — with copies for about 100 curia officials — an official memorandum in Italian, with each of the six pages signed by the lawyer of the archdiocese, Márcio Miranda.

The memorandum describes in detail what the local Church has done and continues to do to help the girl and protect her life, just as it had protected until the last moment the lives of the two children in her womb.


“Taking into account the facts that have been presented, it is necessary that all the critics of [Archbishop Cardoso] should reflect and recognize that their hasty judgments were unfounded and they should redress the evil perpetrated, rendering justice to Archbishop Cardoso Sobrinho.”

With this memorandum, the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife is urging the Vatican authorities to come to an “amicable solution” of the controversy, otherwise it will proceed with a canonical denunciation against Archbishop Fisichella.

Magister’s article, which is available here, concludes with a lengthy extract from an article by Msgr. Michel Schooyans — a Catholic expert in bioethical issues who is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Life as well as two other Vatican academies — denouncing Archbishop Fisichella’s actions.

According to Msgr. Schooyans,

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).

The fact that the Pope accepted Archbishop Cardoso’s resignation July 1 for reasons of age, as he is more than a year past the mandatory retirement age of 75 for bishops, might ease the tensions between the archdiocese and the Vatican over the matter. But the facts reported in Magister’s July 3 article indicate the issue isn’t going to disappear any time soon.