Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I, too, want to be excommunicated

The Catholic church has frequently been accused of showing a blatant disregard of women by relegating them to the role of brood mares and, due to a heinous child molestation scandal complete with organized cover-up, shown more concern about outward appearance and maintaining power than it does for children. The case of a young Nicaraguan girl combines the lack of respect for the rights of women and children that seems to be endemic to the church hierarchy.

As "Rosa" and 2 cousins walked to school in Costa Rica, 8-year old Rosa was attacked and raped by a neighbor. She became pregnant as a result of the rape and her parents decided to seek an abortion for the girl. Due to the pervasive control of the church in Latin American countries, Rosa's family had to fight with the governments of two countries before they were able, with the assistance of women's health activists, to obtain an abortion for the girl who was, by then, 9 years old and 4 months pregnant. The church noted anybody involved in the abortion, including Rosa's family, was automatically excommunicated from the church. When interviewed about the case, the Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Obando Y Bravo, told the BBC he couldn't see why it would ever be unsafe for a 9-year old to continue a pregnancy and give birth [emphasis mine]
Well there is a case, something that happened in El Salvador if my memory serves me rightly, of a child aged 9 who gave birth without harming the child – meaning the mother – and without damage to the baby she'd conceived. So in this light, it's not the norm for a child of 9 years to give birth, but if this child had the misfortune to be raped by someone and then became pregnant, it's always possible, according to doctors who are experts in this field, to save both lives. [BBC]
According to Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Vatican supports this stance as consistent with official doctrine [emphasis mine]
I have followed these events personally. I am writing to the Cardinal personally to express to him in all sincerity my support because public opinion was quite confused with regard to that case. It did not spare a
thought to defending the rights of unborn babies who are people who have a right to live. The church wanted to help this young girl, who she'd have been helped up until the birth of her child. But it also came out and stated the truth. And the truth is that human life is inviolable. [BBC]
The Vatican makes it clear that it supports subjecting females to a high likelihood of enormous risk to health and life even in cases where the chances of a viable birth are low regardless of the mother's age or circumstances.
Rosa's case illustrates that, unlike the zygote, embryo or fetus, a mother's life is far from sacrosanct in the eyes of the church.

The story sparked a furor in countries in which it was covered with more than 30,000 people emailing the Vatican with messages that said "I, too, want to be excommunicated". I doubt the church would have had the sheer audacity to interfere and make the public statements it did in Rosa's case had it occurred in the US.
The publicity would have probably caused further polarization of American Catholics still reeling from sex scandals & disagreement over whether religion should play a role in limiting civil rights - things that ultimately may threaten the church financially, should American Catholics leave the church in droves.

Americans are still privileged in that secular law is (for the most part) separated from religious law. Unfortunately, the Vatican and fundamentalist Christians would like to see that change.
Rosa's case, documented Philadelphia film-makers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater, is a prime example of why we should not ever allow religion to have such a strong position in our governance/legislation as it does in other religion dominated countries. Attie & Goldwater's documentary, Rosita, will have a free screening at Drexel University on Thursday.

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