The pregnant 12-year-old girl was strung out on heroin and looked like a walking skeleton when she arrived at the hospital. The conversation that followed, said Phoenix police chaplain John South, has stuck with him ever since.

"Do you know who the father is?" South recalled asking her.

"She said, 'Yes, it's my biological father. He's the one who hooked me on heroin so he could continue to rape me whenever he wanted to.' "

The Protestant chaplain has consoled about 50 pregnant rape victims -- typically girls raped by their fathers -- in his years working with the Phoenix Police Department.

South describes himself as "pro-life," but when it comes to dealing with a girl or woman impregnated by a rapist, he keeps his personal views to himself.

"I don't give them a lecture or preach at them," South said. "I've seen crimes beyond comprehension."

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock stirred controversy during a debate in Indiana Tuesday when he said pregnancies from rape are "something that God intended to happen." The instant reaction in political circles was predictable: Democrats decried him, and many conservative Republicans defended his position as steadfastly "pro-life."

But theologians were quick with a more nuanced approach, saying the issue of pregnancies from rape strikes at the core of a timeless question: How do you explain evil in a world where God is loving?

That said, many expressed outright dismay by Mourdock's remarks.

South wanted to know what Bible Mourdock reads because "what he's saying is absolutely wrong. It's not biblical."

The police chaplain said pregnancies from rape aren't meant to politicized and said the victims suffer from physical and mental wounds and are often suicidal. About 60% of the time, South surmised from his experience, the women or girls choose to give the baby up for adoption, as long as they never see the child at birth.

"I hurt for these kids," he said. "Rape is evil."

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," said Mourdock's remarks were off-base: "He's invoking the will of God where it is not appropriate."

People "should have compassion for the person whose life is messed up by this and not make her an instrument for our idiosyncratic, theological commitment," Kushner said.

"If you believe she has no right to terminate that pregnancy, you're free to believe that," Kushner said. "But for you to write your preferences into law and compel another person to mess her life up because of what you believe, I think you're going too far."

"I continue to be bemused by the ultraconservative lawmakers who say they want smaller government and less government intrusion into people's lives, except when it comes to who you can marry and how many children you should have."

Father Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said he found Mourdock's comments troubling from a Catholic perspective because "God does not want rape to happen."

"Someone getting pregnant through rape simply means biology continues to function," Reese said. "That doesn't mean God wills it.

"If we look at the Scriptures, we see a God who weeps with those going through pain, who is compassionate for those who suffer and condemns those who do injustice," Reese said