Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mary Hunt on the recent Brazilian abuse/ pregnancy/abortion/excommunication case

My friend and colleague Mary E. Hunt has an essay at ReligionDispatches.org again. This time it's about the recent and tragic case in Brazil. The mother of a nine year old girl who was pregnant with twins (a pregnancy which would have killed her) was excommunicated for helping her have an abortion. The doctors were excommunicated too. The girl's stepfather has admitted to sexually abusing her.

Dr. Hunt, a Roman Catholic feminist theologian, writes:

........ My sadness in this case comes not only from what has been done in the name of God to people who are living a nightmare, but from what might have been done to help. Sexual abuse, especially incest, is hard to stop. But once perpetrated it need not be made worse by ecclesial sanction.

A proper pastoral response would include: support for the pregnant child as she lives through an abortion; care for the mother who is responsible for the child and the rest of the family; protection for the family from the stepfather whose arrest may trigger backlash behavior; sensitive work with the other daughter who has also been sexually abused; HIV and venereal disease testing for the girls and the mother; economic support for the family; counseling for the family, the community, even the neighbors and parishioners who have been affected by this trauma; prayer and pastoral attention, including reception of the sacraments according to the family’s wishes. They need a spiritual community more than ever. Instead they got excommunication. “Is there anyone among you, who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). Apparently there are several in Rome and Brazil.

..... They claim to know the law of God. But here’s the rub: even if they do, an overwhelming number of Catholics and others of goodwill do not care. We do not believe in the cruel, vindictive, callous God they cite. Many believers put our faith in a loving, merciful divinity whose response to human tragedy is to weep not condemn, to embrace not exile. That is a Catholic view, well-supported by scripture and life experience. The bishops are welcome to their views, but beware of people who think they know more about God’s will and God’s law than the rest of us. They are selling a product we are not buying.

.............Let this case signal the end of any credible claim to authority such bishops might make, and the beginning of a new era when local communities determine their own members.

Read the full text of Mary Hunt's commentary here.

The essay is titled "Excommunicating the Victims."


PseudoPiskie said...

Perhaps this pope, if he lives long enough, will cause his own schism? There seem to be many RCs including priests who simply don't accept much of what issues from Rome these days.

Jane R said...

That has been true since 1968 when Humanae Vitae (the encyclical on birth control) came out. The "credibility break" dates from then, all over the world but certainly in the U.S. church.

This pope may be accelerating the process, but the disenfranchisement from the hierarchy started long ago -- with the positive side of this beginning with the hierarchy when Vatican II began speaking of "people of God" and empowering the laity by virtue of their baptism.

So it's all rooted in the 1960s...

But this case is particularly monstrous.

Lindy said...

Thanks for posting this Jane.

Ken said...

I believe Jerry Lamb, retired Episcopal Bishop of Northern California and now Provisional Bishop of the San Joaquin Diocese, was a Roman Catholic priest when Humanae Vitae was published. As I remember the story, he was appalled by what he was being ordered to do: force couples away from family planning unless it was the Russian Roulette of NFP. He left the priesthood but came back to active practice in 1977, this time as a married Episcopal priest.

The tragic irony is that the same country that produced Dom Helder Camara engendered this bureaucratic fiend in a miter. What, I wonder, would Dom Helder say to the little girl's parents?

FranIAm said...

I have no words about this and read every word of Mary's post at RD.

My heart cries and cries and cries at the cruel injustice of it all.