The Diocese of Richmond has provided more information surrounding the January incident in which Commonwealth Catholic Charities of Richmond (CCR) staff and volunteers assisted a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl obtain an abortion.
Speaking to CNA, diocesan spokesman Stephen Neill said that Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, after learning late on January 17 of the abortion planned for the next day, specifically said “I forbid this to happen.”
“We want to be clear that the bishop was opposed to the abortion,” Neill told CNA, noting that Bishop DiLorenzo is himself a moral theologian.
The Guatemalan girl, who has another child, is a ward of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement and was in the foster care of CCR. CCR employees reportedly fit the girl for a contraceptive device two months before the abortion.
In January 2008 one CCR employee signed the consent form required for the minor’s abortion, while a CCR volunteer drove the teen to and from the abortion facility. Federal taxpayer funds are forbidden from being used for an abortion, while Virginia state law requires a parent, legal guardian, or custodian to sign a minor’s parental consent form to obtain an abortion.
The U.S. Department of Human Services is investigating to determine whether Virginia law was violated.
A July 1 press release from Commonwealth Catholic Charities stated that its Executive Director Joanne D. Nattrass said she was notified the afternoon of January 17 that the girl was scheduled to have an abortion the next morning. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was notified by Nattrass that afternoon.
“Based on erroneous and incorrect information provided to Nattrass, the Bishop was told it could not be stopped,” the press release said.
Four CCR staff members connected to the abortion were fired in March.
"The four people were deliberately flouting Catholic church teachings," Neill said to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "The church teaches [that] abortion is wrong."
Responding to criticisms of Bishop DiLorenzo, Neill said "he's feeling like he's being made the bad guy.”
“He's fought abortion all his life."
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, one of the fired staff members wrote a letter in April to the Commonwealth Catholic Charities board of directors. In the letter, the former staff member said that when staff learned in January that the girl planned to have an abortion, the staffers sought guidance from Commonwealth Catholic Charities senior management and informed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which contracts with the federal government to provide services for undocumented minors. The letter writer also said that staff contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement.
"We met with the young woman and her foster family," she wrote. "We insisted that the young woman learn about all the other options available to her -- including meeting with CCC's adoption staff and learning about resources to help her if she decided to keep the child."
The former CCR staffer wrote that Nattrass told the staff on January 17 that they “could not provide any material support for the abortion . . . could not pay for it or provide transportation."
"We complied with these orders, and sadly, the young woman made her own decision the following day and the pregnancy was terminated," the letter said.