BRASILIA - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday sharply criticized a Catholic archbishop who ordered the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion.
"As a Christian and a Catholic, I deeply regret that a bishop of the Catholic Church has such a conservative attitude," Lula told reporters. "The doctors did what had to be done: save the life of a girl of nine years old," he said, adding that "in this case, the medical profession was more right than the Church."
The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin fetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.
The regional archbishop, Father Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, immediately hit out at the mother for authorizing the operation and at doctors who carried it out over fears that the slim girl would not survive carrying the fetuses to term. "God's law is above any human law. So when a human law ... is contrary to God's law, this human law has no value," Cardoso said Thursday.
"The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion, will be excommunicated."
On Friday, the unrepentant archbishop added the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the Church.
Although the man allegedly committed "a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious," he said.
One of the doctors involved in the abortion, Rivaldo Albuquerque, told Globo television that he would keep going to mass, regardless of the bishop's order.
"The people want a Church full of forgiveness, love and mercy," he said. The case has sparked fierce debate in Brazil, where abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or if the woman's health is in danger.
Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao on Thursday also slammed the archbishop.
"Two things strike me: the assault on the girl and the position of this bishop, which is truly lamentable," he said. The girl, who was not identified because she is a minor, was last week found to be four months' pregnant after being taken to hospital suffering stomach pains.
Officials said she told them she had suffered sexual abuse by her stepfather since the age of six.
Police said the 23-year-old stepfather also allegedly sexually abused the girl's physically handicapped 14-year-old sister.
He was arrested a week ago and is being kept in protective custody. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
The website of the news group Globo reported that another girl, aged 11, was being looked after in a hospital in southern Brazil after being found to be seven months pregnant following alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.
That suspect, 51, turned himself into police in February.
He told officers he once had sexual relations with his adopted daughter, according to the police chief for the town of Irai, Antonio Maieron. The girl has said she does not intend to seek an abortion, according to reports.