Sunday, 8 March 2009

Punishing the rapist and the principle of double effect: a few red herrings in the Brazilian case

Some of the comments I've seen and received have raised a couple of issues that perhaps need to be responded to clearly in relation to the Brazilian rape case (and abortion more generally). So here is my take on the situation (but by all means correct me if you think I've got it wrong).

1. Why punish the woman not the man?

First it is not the girl in this case who is excommunicated (since she is only a child), but those who arranged and carried out the abortion.

What does excommunication mean? In practical terms (yes there is a bit more to it then this, but in essence this is its main effect), it means the person is excluded from the sacraments - they may not receive communion for example, UNTIL they repent, go to confession and receive proper absolution. It's purpose is to bring home to the person the seriousness of what they have done. But it need not exclude them from the Church for ever.

On a practical basis, the rapist is in exactly the same situation - he has committed a mortal sin which needs to be confessed before he can return to the sacraments.

Why is one formally excommunicated, the other not? Because everyone knows perfectly well that rape and abuse is a serious sin. But in this age that has lost its sense of sin, not everyone seems to realize that abortion is a form of murder. The Church uses this penalty to teach what we need to know.

2. What about the threat to the girl's life posed by the pregnancy?

No one is suggesting however that the girl should be allowed to die as a result of the pregnancy if that can legitimately be prevented. There are (very rare) circumstances when an abortion will legitimately result from medical action aimed at saving the mother's life. When an action has both good and bad consequences - saving the life of a mother, killing the life of children - five criteria need to be met:
  • there must be no alternative course of action that can be pursued;
  • the purpose must be good - to save the life of the mother;
  • the consequence must not be the intended;
  • the good consequence (saving the mother) must not be the effect of the evil consequence - the end doesn't justify the means - so the procedure involved must not be a direct abortion but some other therapeutic procedure whose consequence is the loss of the child;
  • the good consequence must be proportionate to the evil consequence.
So if the mother's life really was at serious risk and there was absolutely no other way to save her, an operation whose consequence was the loss of the children might have been permissible. But the physician's advice seems to be that in the Brazilian case, that wasn't the situation.

It might have been possible for the pregnancy to continue until the babies were viable without risking the girl's life. Or action of some kind might have needed to be taken later in the pregnancy.

But now we will never know, and two more children have joined the holocaust.

Please pray for all those involved, and for all who struggle with this to be brought to the truth.


(another) Louise said...

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops, and head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, has supported the Brazilian Archbishop. He told the Italian daily La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live.

"It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

"Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

(another) Louise said...

Oh, and interestingly, CathNews is not carrying this story!

(another) Louise said...

Oh, and interestingly, CathNews is not carrying this story!