Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart is famous for his 1964 “definition” of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” What is true of obscenity in the movies (Potter’s challenge) is also true in religion. Case in point: the ruling of the Catholic Church in Brazil, backed by the Vatican, to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a 9-year-old girl who received an abortion after being raped by her stepfather and found to be pregnant with twins.
I know it when I see it: obscenity is forcing a 9-year-old to give birth; obscenity is ex-communicating (and hence in their minds condemning to Hell for all eternity) her mother and her doctors; obscenity is a religion of love made heartless by its own law.
Brazil is a strongly Catholic country, but the law allows for abortion in the case of rape, and the ruling of the Church raised the ire of many Brazilians including President Luiz Inaccio Lula da Siva. It raises mine as well, and I think it should raise the ire and outrage of any thoughtful, compassionate human being regardless of his or her theology. I know of course that it won’t, for so many of us have become legalists when it comes to abortion.
I find it painfully, sorrowfully, ironic that so many Christians whose God is a God of love, compassion, and forgiveness, and whose faith supposedly frees them from the letter of the law are so chained to the Church “law” prohibiting abortion that they cannot see the need for flexibility. Indeed, a Church that did not deny Communion to Adolf Hitler but will deny it to a mother whose concern for the welfare of her daughter (assuming of course she is not complicit in her daughter’s rape) trumps her loyalty to her church is a Church without a heart or a soul.
And make no mistake, it is loyalty to the church rather than fealty to God that is the issue here. The very same God that gave us the Vatican gave us rabbinic Judaism as well, and in the latter case abortion is allowed in certain circumstances. So to say we are violating God’s law when allowing for abortion in certain cases is pure arrogance, imposing a single theological stance on the world that does not want it or need it.
Those who worry about the souls of those unborn twins are denying the compassion of God. Can anyone imagine a loving God damning these unborn souls while forgiving their rapist father who most likely remains a “good Catholic”? Can anyone imagine a loving God condemning a loving mother for an act of love toward her daughter? Yes, they can! The so-called God of love that millions claim to worship is, in their hands, a screen behind which to proselytize heartlessness, injustice, and cruelty.
I am not speaking about abortion in general. I am talking about the obscenity of this case. There is room for honest and heartfelt debate on the larger issue of abortion, but there is no excuse for the heartless attack on the mother and doctor of this nine-year-old girl.
I applaud the people of Brazil who stand up to the madness of a Church blinded to love. I wish there were more people with that kind of moxie willing to take on the obscenity of religious excess.