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9-Year-Old's Abortion Draws Catholic Censure in Brazil

Archbishop excommunicates mother, doctors involved in abortion for girl raped by her stepfather.

Despite the Catholic Church's attempts to stop the procedure, a 9-year-old Brazilian girl whose stepfather allegedly sexually abused her had an abortion Wednesday after doctors warned that giving birth might result in death. Physicians at the hospital in the coastal town of Recife said the girl - 15 weeks pregnant with twins and weighing 80 pounds - could not give birth without putting her life at risk.

In response, on Thursday Jos? Cardoso Sobrinho, archbishop of Olinda and Recife, excommunicated the girl's mother, who authorized the abortion, and the doctors involved.

"The law of God is above any human law," the archbishop said in an interview with Globo television that aired Thursday. "So when a human law, i.e., a law enacted by legislators, is against the law of God, that human law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion, have incurred excommunication." Excommunication is the Catholic Church's severest censure for an individual, who can no longer participate in church of receive the sacraments, except that of Reconciliation.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, whose population is about 75 percent Roman Catholic, but exceptions can be made in cases of rape or when the woman's life is at risk. Medical director Sergio Cabral said the abortion was legal since the girl's life was in danger and police believed her stepfather, who was arrested last week, had raped her.

According to Globo, the stepfather is not being excommunicated. "He committed a serious crime, but . . . there are many other serious sins. Abortion is more serious," said Archbishop Sobrinho.

Both Brazil's president and health minister have denounced the archbishop's decision. Health minister Jos? Gomes Temporao, who has challenged the church's stance on abortion before, called its position "extreme, radical, and inadequate." President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva, a Roman Catholic, said today that he "profoundly laments" the archbishop's decision.

The Vatican told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that it supports Archbishop Sobrinho's decision. "It is very, very delicate but the Church can never betray his ad, which is to defend life from conception to natural death, even in the face of a human drama as strong as that of the violence of a child-father," said Gianfranco Grieco, head office of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

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