Archbishop Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life has said Brazilian doctors who carried out an abortion on a nine-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather, didn't deserve excommunication, because they were saving her life.
In a statement in the Vatican newspaper Sunday, Archbishop 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 had said the child's life was in danger if the pregnancy continued.
"How should one act in these cases? It is an arduous decision for the doctor and for moral law itself," Fisichella wrote. He urged respect for the
inner "conflict" that the Catholic doctors must have suffered before deciding on the abortion.
Last week, the archbishop of Recife, made a public announcement about the excommunication of the child's mother and the doctors. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a top Vatican official, supported the excommunications. (The man who raped the girl has been been jailed by police, but not officially reprimanded by the Church.)
Archbishop Fisichella criticized the public denunciation, saying 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."
He said that abortion was always "bad." But he said the quick proclamation of excommunication "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy."
"There wasn't any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically," Fisichella wrote.
Writing as if he were addressing the girl, Fisichella said: "There are others who merit excommunication and our pardon, not those who have allowed you to live and have helped you to regain hope and trust."
See also ICN 11 March 2009: Brazil: Church in row over abortion for raped 9 year-old