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Vatican: ''Let little girls die''

9 October 2009. A World to Win News Service. The girl was nine years old. She had been hospitalised for stomach pains when it was discovered that she was pregnant with twins after having been raped by her stepfather, who is thought to have been abusing her since she was six.

Doctors determined that because she was so small (weighing 32 kilos), her uterus couldn’t hold even one baby, let alone two. They scheduled an abortion.

The Catholic Church, however, believes she should have been allowed to die. The archbishop in Brazil's northeast, where the little girl lives, tried to block the operation. When that failed, he excommunicated her mother and the doctors and the entire medical team that performed it.

This case is not just a matter of the particularities of Brazil's downtrodden northeast region, nor the country itself. On 7 March, a leading Vatican official, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, replied to a storm of protest against the excommunication from rank and file Catholics and many others by upholding the Brazilian cleric's action as vital to the defence of Church doctrine. Excommunication means being excluded from the Church and religious services. It is a relatively rare form of punishment for challenging Catholic doctrine and spreading ''division and confusion among the faithful''. The rapist stepfather does not face excommunication for his actions. ''Rape'', said the cardinal, who is also in charge of Latin America, ''is less serious than abortion.'' ''It's a sad case, but the real problem'', he told the Italian daily La Stampa, ''is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and not be eliminated.''

The real problem, of course, is just the opposite: both the pregnant child and the embryos might very well have died if she had not had an abortion, and this Vatican authority is arguing that that outcome would have been better than saving her life through an act that violated ''God's law''. So please don't tell us that the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion is based on respect for ''the sanctity of human life''. It's about religion and religious authority, especially the doctrine that defines females as vessels for childbearing. The Catholic Church's actions in this case are not very different from ''honour killings'' of ''unchaste'' women under Islam and other religions.

Further, the special circumstances in this case have somewhat obscured the broader issues. Brazilian law allows abortion only if the woman's life is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. What if this girl hadn't been carrying twins, and it was not known who the father was?  The fact is that the simple and basic right to decide if and when they will have children is denied to most of the world's women, either by law or in fact.

Whatever divides them, proponents of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions have joined hands to keep women down. Nearly everywhere in today's world where there is motion around the right to abortion, it is motion backwards. Their insistence on this aspect of women's oppression is part of their more general devotion to patriarchy and the enslavement of women in the role of wife and mother instead of their emancipation as fully equal human beings. Further, as backward-looking as these religious movements may be, their battle is to shape the future – to preserve and strengthen, in the face of growing opposition and changes in material life, the dominant social and economic relations and institutions and ideas that are what chain the world's women – not biology.

The Catholic Church has unleashed its divisions against legal gains in the right to abortion, where they have been won, as well as divorce, homosexual rights and secularism in general, and to impose ''the sanctity of the family'' by force if need be. Nowhere is this more apparent than Spain, where the Church-sponsored movement is wrapped in the still-lingering odour of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's fascist regime, but the same is true to varying degrees in Italy, Poland, France and elsewhere. In the U.S. and other countries this battle has been championed by legions of evangelical Protestants, in a global political climate where the opposition to the legal right to abortion has become respectable even among those who claim to know better.

The Catholic Church's readiness to excommunicate a Catholic mother and medics who saved a child's life contrasts with another notorious excommunication affair: Pope Benedict XVI recently lifted a predecessor's excommunication of a group of ultra-rightist priests sanctioned in 1970 for defying the Church reform known as Vatican Council II. Now Benedict is pretending to be surprised that one of the priests he welcomed back into the folds of the Mother Church, Richard Williamson, continues to deny the existence of Nazi gas chambers. We say ''pretend'' because Williamson's group, the Society of St. Pius X, was well-known for its Nazi sympathies and its opposition to any change in the Catholic doctrine that all Jews should be held responsible for the death of Christ. Pope Benedict plans to visit Israel in May, thus demonstrating his ability to combine tolerance for anti-Semitism with support for Zionism in the service of higher interests – the defence of the unjust, intolerable and unnecessary world order.

The Pope, at least, seems very aware of the centrality of the oppression of women as a pillar of this order.  He is not the only guardian of the world as it is, but he is one of the most influential and wily – a wolf in shepherd's clothing.
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