Pope Francis, Abortion and the Year of Mercy

     If you have been listening to the news this week I’m sure you heard that Pope Francis gave priests the authority to absolve the sin of abortion. Sadly, as often happens when the secular media tries to report on the Catholic Church without first checking with the Church, there was much confusion. Many Catholics, not being told the whole story, stopped and said “wait I thought if I confessed my sins with contrition they were forgiven, why is Pope Francis just now letting priests absolve the sin of abortion.” Any priest in good standing in his diocese has the authority to offer the absolution of Jesus, yet there are some sins which because of their seriousness carry with them a penalty which the bishop or in some rare cases the Pope himself must lift before the person can receive absolution.[1]

     Due to the seriousness of the sin of abortion, anyone who participates in the act of abortion is automatically excommunicated,[2] that is to say the person should not seek to receive any of the sacraments, have any ministerial participation in the Mass, such as a reader of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or to hold any governing offices in the Church, for example to sit on the parish council,[3] until they have sought reconciliation with the Church. By imposing the penalty of excommunication the Church is not intending to keep the person from the mercy of God, rather “she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”[4] Under normal circumstances one who has been excommunicated, would come to the sacrament of Confession and express contrition for their sin and the priest would petition the Bishop anonymously on behalf of the penitent to remove the excommunication and after hearing from the Bishop’s delegate that the excommunication was lifted he would offer absolution to the penitent. With this new ruling Pope Francis is instructing priests to skip the red tape and is giving them the authority to not only absolve sins but also to lift the excommunication which is automatically incurred when someone participates in an abortion. Practically in our Archdiocese this ruling has no effect because for decades every Bishop has already extended this invitation to the priests of St. Louis, thus if someone confessed the sin of abortion in St. Louis they can be assured that their sin was forgiven and the excommunication was lifted. While abortion is a very serious sin, no sin is too great for God’s mercy. If you or someone you know has participated in an abortion I beg you to come to seek God’s mercy and healing in the Sacrament of Confession.

[1] It should be noted that if a person is near death any priest (even one who has been laicized) can absolve any sin and remove any penalty because the Church wants all to be able to receive God’s mercy before their death.

[2] Code of Canon Law par. 1398

[3] Code of Canon Law par. 1331

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 2272

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