In my recent post entitled Who Speaks for the Church, I explained that in matters of faith and morals for the Universal Church and the world there is only one voice: the Vicar of Christ, speaking alone or in conjunction with the Episcopal College constituted in a General Council of the Church or united with him in the ordinary magisterium of the Church.  I further explained that the Pope views the world “through the prism that is Peter.”  In contrast, I explained that the Secretary of State of the Vatican, since he concerned with the relations of the Vatican State with all the other governments of the world views the world “through the prism that is Caesar.”

A perfect example of what can happen when persons, other than the Pope, attempt to speak for the Church in matters of faith and morals.  One such person, it would seem from recent incidents, is the Popes’s personal Spokesman: Father Lombardi, S.J.  When the Pope made his comment to reporters on his flight to Africa about condoms and AIDS, Father Lombardi the next day gave a different version of what the Pope had said.  The result:  confusion!

I also pointed out that L’Osservatore Romano is the ‘official’ newspaper of the Holy See and that it is used by the Pope to announce his papal letters, allocutions, etc.  But, I pointed out, the paper is under the direct control of the Secretary of State.  The Editor reports to the Secretary of State, not to the Pope.  So, when the paper recently printed a series of articles laudatory of Barack Hussein Obama and the Obama administration it would have been wrong to interpret those articles as representing the thinking of the Pope; they represented the thinking of the Secretary of State.  The Secretary of State is Cardinal Bertone.

Now, in an column by Sandro Magister (reproduced below) it is revealed that the scandal of the article by Archbishop Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy of Life, criticizing Brazilian Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho’s excommunication of those responsible for the aborting of the twin children of the nine-year-old Brazilian girl was written at the direction of the Secretary of State and published in L’Osservatore Romano also at the direction of the Secretary of State.  That scandalous article was condemned by many who sought its retraction, failing in that they appealed directly to Pope Benedict.  The Pope, we learn from the Sandro column today, indirectly has rebuked his Secretary of State by having Cardinal Levada’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issue a “Clarification” which the Pope evidently ordered published in L’Osservatore Romano.  The Clarification affirms the traditional teaching of the Church on the subjec of abortion, validates the excommunications issued by Archbishop Sobrinho and

Retractions. The Holy Office Teaches Archbishop Fisichella a Lesson

The congregation for the doctrine of the faith has released a “clarification” that in fact repudiates the article published in “L’Osservatore Romano” by the president of the pontifical academy for life, on the abortion performed on a Brazilian mother-child. Here’s the document

by Sandro Magister

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ROME, July 10, 2009 – This afternoon, at the very same time as Benedict XVI was meeting at the Vatican with the United States president Barack Obama, “L’Osservatore Romano” printed a “clarification” by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, “on procured abortion.”

The “clarification” is what many were waiting for after a controversial article published last March 15 by the same newspaper of the Holy See, signed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the pontifical academy for life.

The “clarification” bears all the stamps of official authority. It is printed on page 7 of the newspaper of the Holy See, but is announced on the front page inside the highly official feature “Our Information.”

Fisichella’s article concerned the case of an extremely young Brazilian mother-child who was made to abort the twins she was carrying in her womb, and was interpreted by many as justifying the double abortion.

There followed a lively public controversy, which http://www.chiesa related in two extensive articles.  But at the same time, the Vatican authorities received many protests and requests through private channels.

These included the step taken by 27 of the 46 members of the pontifical academy for life. On April 4, they wrote a joint letter to Fisichella, their president, asking him to correct the “mistaken” positions he had expressed in the article.

On April 21, Fisichella responded to them in writing, rejecting the request.

On May 1, 21 of the signers of the previous letter then went to Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, asking the congregation for a clarifying statement on the Church’s teaching on the matter of abortion.

The letter was delivered on May 4, but did not receive any reply. The writers learned from an official at the congregation that the letter had been forwarded to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, “because Fisichella’s article had been written at his request.”

Two members of the pontifical academy for life then sent a dossier on the matter directly to the pope.

On June 8, Benedict XVI discussed the case with Bertone, and ordered that a statement be published reconfirming that the Church’s teaching on abortion is unchanged.

The “clarification” published today in “L’Osservatore Romano,” dated July 11, 2009, is precisely the fruit of this decision.

Here it is in its original form:

On procured abortion

Clarification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Recently a number of letters have been sent to the Holy See, some of them from prominent figures in political and ecclesial life, explaining the confusion that has been created in various countries, especially in Latin America, following the manipulation and exploitation of an article by His Excellency Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the sad affair of the “Brazilian girl.”

In this article, which appeared in “L’Osservatore Romano” on March 15, 2009, the doctrine of the Church was presented, while still keeping in mind the dramatic situation of the aforementioned girl, who – as could be demonstrated afterward – had been accompanied with all pastoral delicacy, in particular by the archbishop of Olinda and Recife at the time, His Excellency Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho.

In this regard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterates that the Church’s teaching on procured abortion has not changed, nor can it change.

This teaching has been presented in numbers 2270-2273 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in these terms:

«Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15).

«Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.
This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” (Didaché, 2:2). “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Vatican Council II, “Gaudium et Spes”, 51).

«Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” (Code of Canon Law, can. 1398), “by the very commission of the offense” (Code of Canon Law, can. 1314) and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1323-1324). The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

«The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death… The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined… As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction “Donum Vitae”, III)».

In the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this teaching with his authority as Supreme Pastor of the Church:

«By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church» (no. 62).

As for abortion procured in certain difficult and complex situations, the clear and precise teaching of Pope John Paul II applies:

«It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being» (Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae”, no. 58).

As for the problem of specific medical treatments intended to preserve the health of the mother, it is necessary to make a strong distinction between two different situations: on the one hand, a procedure that directly causes the death of the fetus, sometimes inappropriately called “therapeutic” abortion, which can never be licit in that it is the direct killing of an innocent human being; on the other hand, a procedure not abortive in itself that can have, as a collateral consequence, the death of the child:

«If, for example, saving the life of the future mother, independently of her condition of pregnancy, urgently required a surgical procedure or another therapeutic application, which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired or intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an action could not be called a direct attack on the innocent life. In these conditions, the operation can be considered licit, as can other similar medical procedures, always provided that a good of high value, like life, is at stake, and that it is not possible to postpone it until after the birth of the child, or to use any other effective remedy» (Pius XII, Speech to the Fronte della Famiglia and the Associazione Famiglie numerose, November 27, 1951).

As for the responsibility of medical workers, the words of Pope John Paul II must be recalled:

«Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today’s cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness» (Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae”, no. 89).


The previous articles from http://www.chiesa on the controversy, with Archbishop Fisichella’s article and other documents:

> The Recife Case. Rome Has Spoken, But the Dispute Has Not Ended (3.7.2009)

> Drifting Mines. In Africa the Condom, in Brazil Abortion (23.3.2009)


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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