The Recife excommunications: Summum ius, summa iniuria
Roughly translated, Summum ius, summa iniuria means “the greater the right, the greater the wrong”. When a great right (e.g., the right to life) is violated, it results in a great wrong. Similarly, when those with great responsibility (say, Curial officials) commit blunders in office, they do much more harm than would others. The continuing crisis over recent statements by certain Roman dicastery officials in regard to the Recife excommunications case features, I suggest, wrongs of both these sorts.
What is required of those who want to assess the comments by Abp. Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, published last March in L’Osservatore Romano, concerning the excommunications of those performing a double abortion on a nine-year old girl in Brazil? Well, for starters, they must bear in mind that it is never easy to analyze comments (1) made in one language but translated into another, especially when (2) the person making those comments seems unaware of how poor his grasp of the facts is, and particularly when (3) his comments involve applying highly technical but imperfect laws (4) to emotion-laden fact patterns.
Until I see the brief prepared on behalf of the (now-emeritus) Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, against Fisichella’s comments, I refer interested readers to Sandro Magister’s insightful reporting on the matter here, in light of which report I offer a few observations.
Some preliminary points: (1) L’Osservatore Romano is acting with unprofessional bias in stone-walling Cardoso’s request to defend himself against the accusations made in the pages of L’OR; (2) Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi has once again made statements on a high-profile case that seem to blunt the meaning of the pope’s own words about the case, showing himself ill-suited to being the spokesman for the pontiff; (3) deliberate abortion is gravely evil (CCC 2271) and should result in one’s excommunication (1983 CIC 1398), but the canonical debate over whether that (or any other) penalty should operate latae sententiae must be separated from the discussion of Fisichella’s statements.
Now, even with all those caveats in mind, I find Fisichella’s statements on this case nigh on unbelievable.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, ‘ambiguous’ or ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’ to grasp about the Church’s unexceptioned condemnation of the deliberate killing of an innocent human life. For the prelate in charge of the pope’s primary office concerned with life issues to have expressed himself in such a way as to even suggest (not just once, but several times!) that such a heinous deed might ever be justifiable is grounds for him to resign.
Perhaps some will think my interpretation of Fisichella’s comments unfair? I invite them to consider the devastating analysis of Fisichella’s comments offered by Msgr Michel Schooyans, a Belgian bioethicist and member of three pontifical academies, including the Academy of Life. He finds Fisichella’s comments “astonishing” and is urging nothing less than a personal papal intervention in correction thereof. Or, via negativa, the notorious Frances Kissling took comfort in Fisicella’s comments, showing thereby how poorly the prelate served his office and the wider cause of defending preborn babies from the abortionists’ savagery.
Summum ius, summa iniuria, indeed, et consequenter summa obligatio scandalum reparandi.
PS: Once again it may be said, too many of those who are supposed to be making Benedict XVI’s pontificate more effective are in fact making things more difficult.
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Update 11 July 2009: Sandro Magister writes “The congregation for the doctrine of the faith has released a ‘clarification’ that in fact repudiates the article published in L’Osservatore Romano by the president of the pontifical academy for life, on the abortion performed on a Brazilian mother-child.”