Va. Bishop Apologizes Over Girl's Abortion

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By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008

Leaders of a Richmond-based Catholic charity under federal investigation are scrambling to explain the organization's involvement in helping a 16-year-old illegal immigrant in its care get an abortion in January.

Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo apologized this week for the "monumental tragedy" and the embarrassment the incident has caused the diocese and Catholics across the country.

"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 in a statement to the Catholic Virginian, a biweekly newspaper that serves the Richmond diocese.

DiLorenzo's comments followed reports that four staff members of Commonwealth Catholic Charities were fired after it was revealed that they provided the girl with transportation and signed a consent form needed for the abortion.

An investigation revealed that the workers also had helped her implant a contraceptive two months before the abortion, Joanne D. Nattrass, the charity's executive director, said in a statement.

The charity's staff and DiLorenzo "are deeply saddened by the incident," she said.

The girl, who is from Guatemala, was in the government's refugee resettlement program and living in Virginia. It is unclear why the workers helped her obtain the abortion, which is against Catholic teachings.

Nattrass would not discuss the employees' motivation. But she said Commonwealth Catholic Charities has taken steps to ensure that such an incident doesn't happen again, including ongoing education and training for employees about Catholic beliefs.

Charity employees do not have to be Catholic but are expected to adhere to the religion's teachings. "Most of our staff here are not Catholic," spokeswoman Paula Ritter said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating whether the charity violated state and federal laws by facilitating the abortion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops receives about $7.6 million annually to provide foster care for illegal immigrant children until they can be reunited with their families.

The conference contracts with more than 1,700 Catholic Charities branches across the country to provide services. Federal law prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.


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