Bishop of Richmond knew charity staff planned to help minor get abortion

ppdilorenzo010708 Bishop Francis DiLorenzo

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Diocese of Richmond was told that a diocesan charity planned to help a 16-year-old ward of the federal government obtain an abortion in January and was told he could not prevent the action.

Stephen Neill, spokesman for the Diocese of Richmond, told the Washington Times that Bishop DiLorenzo “was told erroneously that everything was in place and there was nothing he could do to stop it.”

“He is very apologetic about the whole episode,” Neill continued. “It is very awkward, it is very embarrassing. A human life was taken. He certainly has not taken it lightly in any way. He is clearly opposed to abortion."

Neill told the Washington Times that Bishop DiLorenzo was informed of the planned abortion on January 17, the day before the abortion was performed on the unborn child and the 16-year-old Guatemalan girl who was a foster care client of Commonwealth Catholic Charities of Richmond (CCR). CCR is incorporated under the diocese.

The girl, who already has one child, reportedly had been fitted with a contraceptive device provided by CCR members two months before the January 18 abortion. The Washington Times reports that CCR members or volunteers signed the consent form required for a minor to have an abortion and also arranged her transportation to and from the abortion clinic.

Neill said a volunteer, not a CCR staff member, drove the girl to the abortion clinic.

Writing in a June 25 letter, Bishop DiLorenzo called the abortion a “monumental tragedy.”

“I join my sadness to yours at the loss of the life of an unborn child whose teenage mother was in the foster care of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, he wrote. Because of “issues of privacy” and “the ongoing legal investigations,” he said, there is a need to “be prudent in making any public statement.”

The bishop said that questions about CCR oversight and the apparent lack of a pro-life formation of CCR employees would have to be answered by “the board, the administration and the staff of Commonwealth Catholic Charities.”

Bishop DiLorenzo issued an extended apology, saying:

“Obviously, respect for the life of the unborn is a basic tenet of our Catholic faith and morality. I would ask all of you to pray that we correct what needs correcting and strengthen areas that need strengthening so that Catholic Charities might continue their mission of service to those in need.

“The guilt and depression that many of us experience as a result of the behavior of a few is something that we will bear for a long time to come,” he wrote. “Finally, I express my profound apology for the loss of the life of one of the most vulnerable among us, and I apologize for the profound embarrassment this has caused the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and Catholics throughout the United States.”

The teenage mother was a ward of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS had contracted with CCR to care for the girl, whose parents are not in the United States.

Federal law forbids any federal funds to be used for an abortion, while Virginia law requires parental consent for a minor seeking to obtain an abortion.

In a June 19 statement CCR Executive Director Joanne Nattrass said the provision of the abortion was “contrary to basic teachings of the Catholic Church.” She wrote that neither CCR nor diocesan funds paid for the abortion. She also stated that a CCR staff member had signed the consent form for the abortion.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Neill said that Nattrass also knew the girl was getting an abortion. Nattrass reportedly told the bishop there was nothing they could do to stop the planned abortion.

Bill Etherington, an attorney for the diocese and for CCR, said Bishop DiLorenzo was given bad information about whether the abortion could be prevented, the Washington Times reports.

"He was told it could not be stopped," Etherington said. "It was erroneous information. He didn't have to sign off on it. He was not personally involved."

A Diocese of Richmond spokesperson did not respond to CNA inquiries by press time.

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