Argentine doctor faces prison for refusing abortion; Chilean Jesuit faces abuse accusations

Argentine doctor faces prison for refusing abortion; Chilean Jesuit faces abuse accusations

Argentine doctor faces prison for refusing abortion; Chilean Jesuit faces abuse accusations

Pro-life rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 23, 2019. (Credit: Facebook Marcha por la Vida.)

Inés San Martín gives a roundup of Church news from Latin America.

ROME — A doctor has been condemned in Argentina for refusing to perform an abortion in the fifth month of a pregnancy causing uproar among Catholics, Evangelicals and pro-life groups; Pope Francis has appointed two new auxiliary bishops to the troubled Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile; and an apology from a Chilean Jesuit who “saw nothing and knew nothing,” but says he is now convinced his late friend Father Renato Poblete is guilty of abusing many women.

Here’s the rundown of Catholic news from Latin America this week.

In Argentina, a doctor goes to jail

In 2017, Dr. Leandro Rodriguez Lastra refused to perform an abortion on a 19-old woman who arrived at the hospital in the southern city of Cipolleti. She was 22 weeks pregnant after having been raped, and had taken an abortion-inducing pill, which had life-threatening side effects.

Rodriguez Lastra saved both the woman and the unborn child, who has since been adopted. The man who raped the woman was never tried for his crime. Yet this week, the doctor was found guilty of “breaching the duties of a public official,” and faces two years in prison; he  could also lose his medical license.

Abortion is currently illegal in the home country of Pope Francis, though some provinces have a protocol in place that provide exceptions if the pregnancy is the product of a rape or the life of the mother is at risk. The prosecution argued that according to the protocol in place, Rodriguez Lastra should have performed the abortion.

The Catholic Church in Argentina, Evangelical churches and pro-life organizations have all spoken against the veredict of Judge Alvaro Meynet.

Bishop Alberto Bochatey, auxiliary of La Plata and a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, told a local radio station that the Argentine people “want life and not death.”

Last year, President Mauricio Macri opened a debate for the legalization of abortion, but Congress eventually voted against the proposal  after millions of Argentines took to the streets calling for the government to “defend both lives.”

The Argentine Alliance of Evangelical churches released a statement saying that it’s contradictory to “condemn a healthcare professional for being coherent in his vocation to save lives.”

“It’s fundamental to review the laws and protocols that create a culture of death without taking its consequences into account, leaving legal voids and contradicting the promise made by healthcare professionals,” the organization said.

During his defense, Rodriguez Lastra alleged that he’d followed his oath as a doctor and that by doing what he did he saved the life of not only the unborn child but also the mother, as continuing with the abortion would have put her at greater risk.

New bishops for Santiago

In a decision that has been described as “a gift,” Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed two new auxiliary bishops for Santiago, Chile’s capital, perhaps the most troubled Catholic archdiocese in the world right now, with an unraveling clerical sexual abuse scandal that implicates two cardinals and three of the city’s once most beloved priests.

Santiago technically had six auxiliary bishops before the appointment of Father Carlos Eugenio Irarrazaval and Father Alberto Lorenzelli, but four of them have been assigned as apostolic administrators to other Chilean dioceses.

Of the two who were left, one is too sick to be fully active, so Bishop Celestino Aos — appointed two months ago as apostolic administrator of Santiago, replacing Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati — certainly could use the help.

Speaking with Crux earlier this month, Aos said he felt supported by Francis in his task to lead the Archdiocese of Santiago, but that he was “hoping he’ll support me even more” by naming new auxiliaries.

Waking up to the news that the pope had, in fact, granted his wish, Aos said that the two new auxiliaries are a “gift.”

“They come to serve the Church, and they come to serve you,” Aos said, speaking to the community of Santiago in a video released by the archdiocese. “Together, we want to build a civilization of love, of understanding, truth, justice and peace — to have a new and better Chile.”

Speaking about his appointment, Irarrazaval said that he hopes to continue to live the priesthood in an attitude of “service to those Jesus entrusts me with.”

“I believe therein lies the key of the matter, but obviously, in the Church in Santiago, in this time we’re living through, needs a deeper service, more integral and simple, of encountering every person,” the bishop-elect said.

Lorenzelli, born in Argentina to Italian immigrants who went back to Italy when he was a teenager, was in Rome when the announcement was made. He will be ordained a bishop by Francis on June 22, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“This is an unexpected announcement that surprised me,” he said in a statement.

“The pope didn’t ask me for anything special, only that I go with a missionary spirit to animate the Chilean Church and with a Salesian spirit to animate the youth,” he said.

The Jesuits in Chile, under the microscope

For years, the Society of Jesus in Chile felt it was immune to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, but in January of this year it became evident that the attitude of “nothing to see here” caught up with them, in the worst possible way.

Father Renato Poblete, once a hero for his commitment to the poor and Chile’s outcasts, has had 10 to 15 allegations of abuse lodged against him, all from women. One of them claims that the priest, who died in 2010, forced her to have three abortions.

Jesuit Father Jorge Costodoat, a well known theologian, sent a letter to his friends that was eventually made public saying that he knew nothing of the “barbarities” alleged against Poblete, but that at the same time, he believes them.

“If you’re shocked because you didn’t imagine something like this, I can tell you, I didn’t either,” the priest wrote.

Some 60 people have been interviewed by a lawyer, Waldo Brown, in an investigation against Poblete, and according to Costodoat, it’s important that all the abuses “come to light, as much as possible, even if it’s all dirt.”

Since the accused is dead, a judicial investigation is currently not being conducted by the authorities, although the Church is conducting an inquiry.

Costodoat said that even though the investigation that is taking place doesn’t follow the standards of one led by the prosecutor’s office, it is “independent.”

“The result of the investigation can lead us to know what really happened and to have at least a minimum of justice [for Poblete’s victims,” Costodoat wrote.

The priest is a professor in Chile’s Pontifical University, and as such, a colleague of Marcela Aranda, a woman who earlier this year gave an interview in which she said that Poblete personally abused her for years, had his friends gang-rape her, and forced her to have three abortions.

“I believe Marcela, and I told this to her,” the priest wrote in his letter.

He also wrote that his  ignorance of the actions, even when he lived with Poblete for four years, has left him with a sense of “insecurity” and not knowing what to do.

“I cannot accept that you and other people think that the Jesuits were accomplices or covered up the atrocities that seem to have happened,” he wrote.

“The credibility of the Jesuits is at stake, as we have made mistakes in other cases. We have failed. Sometimes, we have failed our vows. Sometimes, we didn’t know what to do with the allegations. We did not deliver justice,” he said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.

Latest Stories

Most Read

Crux needs your monthly support

to keep delivering the best in smart, wired and independent Catholic news.

Latest Stories