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Defending Life in Brazil's Elections (Part 3)

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, AUG. 30, 2006 (Zenit) - The debate on abortion is plagued with misinformation, says the auxiliary bishop of Rio de Janeiro.

Bishop Dimas Lara Barbosa, commenting on the upcoming Brazilian presidential elections, states that life issues must become key points for voters and politicians to consider, especially for Catholics.

In part 3 of this three-part interview with Catholic Online, Bishop Barbosa talks about the gravity of abortion.

Part 1 as published on Catholic Online.
Part 2 as published on Catholic Online.

Q: The focus of the debate on abortion has been woman, but should it not be the child?

Bishop Lara: In fact, the two debates should go together, both in terms of public health as well as of pastoral initiatives.

There are still very few maternity clinics that offer quality, free services to mothers with high-risk pregnancies. Many expectant mothers, especially the adolescent and poor, go through a real calvary because of lack of guidance or the threats they suffer from members of their own family, who demand abortion as the condition for an unmarried daughter's return home.

Moreover, there is much disinformation on the meaning itself of the embryo and of the start of human life, not to speak of the overwhelming manipulation of information by so many abortifacient programs.

Beyond that, one of the great tasks of the Church in this century will be the proclamation of an integral anthropology. There are many anthropological reductionisms which have repercussions in lethal practices.

Suffice it to recall the case, quoted by Bishop Elio Sgreccia -- in his monumental work entitled "Manual of Bioethics" -- of Peter Singer, for whom a person is only "he who possesses self-consciousness, self-control, a sense of the past, a sense of the future, the ability to be in relationship with others, respect for others, communication and curiosity."

Singer draws these conclusions: There are beings that are not of the human species -- as a chimpanzee -- but who are persons; there are human beings -- such as the severely deficient -- who are not persons. Therefore, it would be graver to kill a chimpanzee than, for example, a mentally deficient individual or an embryo that did not get to see the light.

Q: Could you explain the questions of excommunication due to abortion?

Bishop Lara: In fact, there are very few occasions foreseen in the present Code of Canon Law in which the punishment of excommunication is applied "latae sententiae," namely, automatically, and abortion is one of them -- Canon 1398 of the present Code of Canon Law.

It is a punishment that is incurred by the very fact of having committed the crime. As its name indicates, excommunication has as its essential effect to place some one outside the visible communion of the Church.

An excommunicated person -- Canon 1331, paragraph 1 - is banned from any ministerial function, both in the celebration of the Eucharist as well as in any other ceremony of worship; from celebrating and receiving the sacraments; from exercising any office, ministry or ecclesiastical responsibility.

Note in addition that Canon 1398 is very brief and only says: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.'" In other words, it is not enough to have intended to practice abortion. If, for some reason, that intent does not work, and the embryo survives, there is no excommunication, though a grave sin will have been committed. In fact, such great violence will leave marks on the child's future development.

Included also in that excommunication are all those who consciously and efficaciously intervene in the abortifacient process, whether directly (doctors, nurses, midwives, etc.) or morally, as is the case of the husband, lover, father or grandfather who threaten the woman and oblige her to abort her baby.

It is very common that the woman herself is not culpable, whether because she acted without full knowledge of the facts, or because she was coerced by acute fear, or because she was not in full command of her mental faculties, or even because of other situations that can greatly lessen the gravity of the act committed (Canon 1324).

Moreover, for the punishment to be applied, there must be the certainty that there was fertilization. An intrauterine device, for example, is an abortifacient contraceptive method. However, as it is not possible to have the certainty that there was fertilization, given that sexual relations can be interfered with, whoever uses an IUD does not incur the excommunication "latae sententiae" of which Canon 1398 speaks.

This does not mean that the ordinary -- the bishop or diocesan authority -- can omit it in the cases of Catholic doctors who implant the IUD, or persons who promote its use -- not forgetting, once again, that many wives have it implanted by imposition of their husbands.

Q: Are politicians who promote abortion excluded automatically from receiving Communion?

Bishop Lara: Abortion is an intrinsically evil action, and those who directly and deliberately practice it or create conditions for it are responsible for its consequences. Included here, in principle, also are politicians who legislate in favor of abortion.

Pastorally it is important to enlighten consciences on the scope of the question and its ramifications. When people are unaware of the existence of canon law, they are not subject to it.

This being the case, those persons should be repeatedly admonished to abandon their evil behavior, before the ordinary decides to promote a more direct and incisive procedure, in the sense of some kind of official declaration.


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Life, Brazil, Barbosa, Abortion

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