EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CNS) — The Diocese of Providence has offered to provide a proper burial for a fetus found in mid-January by a worker at a sewage treatment plant in East Providence.

Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said he was heartbroken to hear the news, and attributes the discovery of a discarded unborn child to the culture of today’s world.

“Pope Francis has often spoken about the throwaway culture which we live in that affects so many poor people and so many individuals, including unborn children, and that’s what we’re dealing with today,” the bishop said Jan. 14.

“So, the diocese has come forward to offer a decent and dignified funeral and burial for this unborn child. It’s certainly a decency and dignity this child deserves,” he said.

The burial was not expected to take place for a while as the matter was still under investigation by police.

The bishop also expressed his concern for the mother of the unborn baby, whom he believes may have had a difficult personal situation to deal with, prompting the fetus to be discarded in the anonymous manner that it was.

“We want to offer her our prayers and personal support too, and we hope she is doing well,” Bishop Tobin added.

The fetus was determined by the State Medical Examiner’s Office to be a male about 19 to 20 weeks old.

Maj. William Nebus, of the East Providence Police Department, told the Rhode Island Catholic diocesan newspaper that according to the police report on the incident, the staff member at the Bucklin Wastewater Treatment Facility initially thought he saw a toy that flowed in from a sewer.

Upon closer inspection, the staff member realized it was an unborn baby and notified his supervisor, who immediately contacted the police.

Nebus had not yet received confirmation from the Medical Examiner’s Office on the cause of death.

Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, has been in contact with the East Providence Police Department, State Medical Examiner’s Office and the state Office of Public Assistance to help facilitate the burial in conjunction with the diocese.

The priest was told that it could be as long as one month before the body can be released for burial since the case is still under investigation.

Nebus said that the diocese’s offer to facilitate a proper burial for the fetus would give the unborn child the dignity it deserves.

“That would be a nice way of doing that, much nicer than could have been expected,” he said.

Carol Owens, coordinator for the Providence Diocese’s Office of Life and Family, said that expectant mothers can always turn to the church for help in a difficult situation and need not feel alone. The office’s St. Gabriel’s Call ministry offers counseling, supplies and infant nutrition services to those in need.

She said these vital outreach programs can help women and families during pregnancy, providing material, as well as emotional and spiritual assistance.

Bishop Tobin said it was “profoundly disturbing” that the unborn child was found in a sewage treatment plant, which also handles runoff from collection drains of several cities and towns in the area.

“Every child is born in the image and likeness of God,” he said. “To find a child in this situation is just heartbreaking and incomprehensible.”

In his “Without A Doubt” column in the Rhode Island Catholic Jan. 22, the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the bishop reiterated his comments about the discovery of the unborn baby, saying the ‘throwaway culture’ has arrived at our doorstep.”

“The pope has described abortion,” he said, “as a product of a ‘widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many. … Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord … they must not be thrown away.'”

Bishop Tobin also repeated the need to pray for the mother of the unborn child found at the wastewater plant, saying: “There are lots of good folks in our community and church who even now would quickly offer her support and assistance if she were to come forward.”

“As we think about the mom, though, and lament the final disposition of her baby, we should understand that similar situations occur every time an abortion takes place in our nation, and even here in our local community,” he continued.

Statistics show that about 4,000 abortions take place annually in Rhode Island, Bishop Tobin said. “That means there are about 4,000 babies being ‘disposed of.'”

“By the way, how are the unborn, aborted babies handled at local abortion clinics?” he wrote “I suppose they’re just labeled ‘medical waste,’ victims of the throwaway culture the pope laments.”

He also urged Rhode Island congregational lawmakers in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood “for all that is holy and good.”

“It’s well-documented that Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion provider. … Let’s be very clear. Planned Parenthood is a destructive, immoral organization,” he said.

“Our response to the throwaway culture, however, shouldn’t be a partisan matter of being Catholic or non-Catholic, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat,” he wrote. “It’s a question of human rights, fundamental human dignity. It should concern us all!”


Snizek is editor of the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.