ROME, July 13, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “Retractions. The Holy Office Teaches Archbishop Fisichella a Lesson”: that is how long-time Vatican expert reporter Sandro Magister of Chiesa characterized an article published Friday in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). (see coverage here) A March 15 article by the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, created a substantial outcry from pro-life leaders internationally who said it besmirched the reputation of strongly pro-life Brazilian Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, and also left many to believe that the Church had weakened its teaching against abortion.The clarification, in addition to restating the Church’s stance on abortion – including the teaching that those directly involved in an abortion are automatically excommunicated – also cleared Archbishop Cardoso of any wrongdoing. Fisichella’s article, entitled “On the Side of the Brazilian Girl,” criticized Cardoso for announcing that automatic excommunication would be incurred by the abortionists in the hard case of a nine-year-old rape victim who was found to be carrying twins. Fisichella did not call Archbishop Sobrinho to verify the facts of the case before criticizing him in the pages of the Vatican newspaper. Fisichella wrote: “Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard her innocent life and bring it up to a level of humanity for which we men of the Church should have been the professional heralds and teachers. It did not happen so, and unfortunately, this has affected the credibility of our teaching.”
The CDF clarification says the opposite, observing that the girl “had been accompanied with all pastoral delicacy, in particular by the archbishop of Olinda and Recife at the time, His Excellency Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho.”
The move is especially significant as Archbishop Fisichella had rejected a request from 27 of the 46 Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (of which he is the president) to correct his article of March 15.
The initial refusals to correct the article were devastating for the pro-life movement worldwide. The secular press and the pro-abortion lobby responded promptly to the article, with headlines and hundreds of articles and editorials claiming that Fisichella was hinting at a softening of the Church’s position on abortion. The Associated Press announced, “Vatican prelate defends abortion for 9-year-old.” The Washington Post said, “Vatican Official Defends Child’s Abortion.”
Significantly, Fisichella’s article was highly praised by Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, an abortion lobby group that presents itself as Catholic and attempts to pressure the Catholic Church to abandon its teachings on life and family.
John Smeaton, President of England’s largest pro-life group – the Society for the Protection of Unborn Chilren (SPUC) – was one of the key pro-life voices in the Fisichella/Sobrinho controversy. Smeaton says he sees in the CDF clarification a major victory and expressed congratulations to all those involved, including LSN.
“LifeSite and along with it many other major groups and leading figures within the Church raised their deep concerns about issues touched upon in Archbishop Fisichella’s original article,” said Smeaton in a phone interview from England. “I feel they ought to be congratulated for their fortitude and their adherence to the hard facts of the matter. And indeed their charity in raising this matter for the good of the Church, for the protection of the reputation of a magnificent pastor – Archbishop Cardoso and ultimately for the protection of the family at the centre of this tragic episode.”
The pro-life leader closest to the action in the case was Human Life International’s Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro. Speaking to LSN from the Rome office of HLI, he described the CDF clarification as a heaven-sent victory, and specifically thanked LSN for its coverage of the issue.
“This document of clarification published by the CDF, as it states in the document itself, is the outcome of the efforts of many pro-lifers worldwide that expressed their concerns about the article written by Archbishop Fisichella,” he said. “One of the institutions that contributed to the publication of this new document was LifeSite….
As readers following the Development & Peace controversy know, Msgr. Weisgerber, the current president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, rebuked “Catholic bloggers” for actually thinking they know something about the Catholic faith. He even went so far as to deny their Catholicity:
“These bloggers who claim to be more Catholic than anyone — I think first of all they’re not part of the church, they’re not Catholic in the sense that they have no mandate, they have no authority, they have no accountability. And they speak very, very definitively about what it means to be Catholic, and they’re followed by so many people… the bishops I think take a more reasoned approach to the whole thing.” (Source)
Well, as the above article shows us, it was the Catholic Faithful, including LifeSiteNews, who played a leading role in getting the Vatican to correct Archbishop Fisichella’s outrageous commentary where he rebuked a faithful Brazilian bishop for his witness to unborn life.
So what are the lessons learned from this episcopal fiasco? The lessons are….
1) It is not wrong to criticize Catholic bishops, even openly, if they themselves refuse to witness and uphold the Catholic faith and the Church’s own laws. It also means that if we do happen to offer some constructive criticism, we can be confident that we are still Catholic, even if an Archbishop has the audacity to say that we’re not…like Archbishop Weisgerber did.
2) Not only is it not wrong to criticize bishops, but as this case has shown above and like the D&P abortion scandal is demonstrating, it becomes an imperative to do so and a great service to the Church.
3) Like the Vatican does, LSN and the Catholic blogosphere “speaks very, very definitively about what it means to be Catholic“. That’s a very good thing to do in this age of massive confusion. Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho spoke very clearly too, while Archbishop Fisichella opted for the soft glove, “more reasoned approach”, not all that different from Msgr. Weisgerber’s approach in dealing with the D&P abortion scandal. We know who ended up being right in the end.
4) In some respects, the position of Msgr. Weisgerber with D&P is less defensible than Archbishop Fisichella’s position on the excommunication of the Brazilian girl’s mother and abortionists. It remains to be seen whether Msgr. Weisgerber will observe the uncompromising position of Rome in defense of human life. He would do well to reflect carefully on it.
5) Cardinal Turcotte, too, needs to update his understanding of the Church’s pastoral position on excommunication of those involved in abortions. I guess Archbishop Sobrinho’s decision to excommunicate wasn’t such a “clumsy move” after all.
6) My contact with the Vatican says officials there are aware of the D&P abortion scandal. In light of the Pope’s encyclical and this decision above, one can only surmise that Rome is not going to be particularly agreeable to the current constitution of Development & Peace. I’m not sure where Archbishop Fisichella is going to end up. Maybe Siberia…or auxillary bishop of Winnipeg.