Monday, November 21, 2016

Abortion Can Always Be Forgiven

Update: At the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has extended indefinitely the special faculties he extended to all priests about forgiving the sin of abortion. What is that all about? (This post was first published before the Year of Mercy began):

After the pope's statement about forgiving abortion, some media reports have made it sound like the Catholic Church doesn't forgive abortion. People are asking,  “Why can abortion only be forgiven during the Year of Mercy?”

Here’s a few facts to help clear up the confusion:

1. Abortion can always be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the Church makes every effort to encourage people involved in it to find healing and forgiveness. A wonderful example is Project Rachel. It is not the case that abortions will only be forgiven in the Year of Mercy.They can and are forgiven at any time when a person repents and confesses this. (That applies not only to women but also to men who pressure women, pay for, promote, aid and abet, or perform abortions, etc.)

2. Abortion is a sin. Because it is a grave matter and the Church hopes to discourage people from them, canon law says that procuring an abortion also incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication.

3. Forgiving the sin is one thing, and remitting the penalty of excommunication is another. Usually the penalty can only be remitted by the bishop. However, in the United States the bishops have given to all priests the faculty to not only forgive the sin when it is confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also to remit the penalty. This is to encourage people to have easier access to forgiveness and healing.

4. Bishops in other countries, however, may have decided to handle it differently. So in brief, the pope is saying that any priest all over the world will be able not only to forgive the sin in confession but also to remit the penalty. While the pope didn’t mention the penalty in his statement, presumably that’s what he meant. Most likely an official text will be issued to clarify the canonical aspects. Pope Francis said:

For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.
5. Also, the automatic penalty of excommunication for abortion doesn’t apply if:

a) the person did not know about it (that would probably exclude about 99% of all Catholic women who have had abortions from incurring the penalty)

b) the person was under the age of 17

c) the person acted out of force or fear

d) the person had an imperfect use of reason

(See this for more info on canonical penalties)

Bottom line: when you see headlines about what the pope said, realize that the journalist writing the story probably knows very little about the Catholic faith and is not getting it right. The best thing is to go directly to the source (Vatican website) and read what the pope actually said.

Finally,  God is so merciful. Jesus said, "No one who comes to me will I ever reject." (Jn 6) His heart is overflowing with love and mercy, that heart pierced on the cross from which blood and water flowed out, the source of sacramental life in the Church.


Victor S E Moubarak said...

Thank you, genuinely, for this explanation.

Some points are still unclear though. Why does the Church excommunicate someone who has an abortion (mother) or carries out an abortion (doctor); but it does not excomunicate someone who commits murder?

You say that some Bishops (now) do forgive abortion and welcome people back to the Sacrament. Why only some Bishops and not all. This seems to me like absolution by lottery depending on where you live.

The Pope has allowed the sin of abortion to be forgiven and excommunication to be remitted In Jubilee Year. What if some Bishops disagree and don't remit the excommunication? Why only in Jubilee Year and not for always. This gives the impression, to non-Catholics, that sins can be forgiven/remitted at certain times. A bit like special offers in the supermarket.

I also heard on the news that Catholics receive a special indulgence (time off purgatory?) if on Jubilee Year they go through a special door of the Cathedral in their Diocese. This too, seems to me, to give the wrong impression of us Catholics to non-believers. Christ never forgave sins if we did special things, like going through doors.

Thank you for your attention.

God bless.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Hello Victor, Thank you for those good and thoughtful questions.
1) I don't know the history of how the penalty of excommunication for abortion got put in the code of canon law. So I would have to do more research on that question. But it might be that just about everybody knows that murder is a serious offense. In today's society, however, many people think abortion is OK. So it could be that by having that penalty, the Church wants to help people understand how serious it is and to discourage them from having abortions.

2) Perhaps my post wasn't clear enough about the second point. All bishops can and do have the ability to forgive the sin of abortion. It is not the case that some will not forgive it. The Church always receives persons in the sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of their sins.
What I meant is that because of the nature of the penalty for abortion, it is what is called a "reserved" sin. That means it has to be referred to the bishop for forgiveness, ordinarily. But in the United States and some other countries, all bishops have also given to priests the ability to remit the penalty along with forgiveness of the sin. So if a person confesses it to an ordinary priest, he can give absolution right then and there, on the spot. He doesn't have to refer the person to the bishop, which would be a little cumbersome.

3) This point too just has to be clarified. Abortion is always forgiven at any time it is confessed, and not only during the year of mercy. Unfortunately some news reports got it wrong. They made it sound like the Church doesn't always forgive abortion, that it would be forgiven only during the year of mercy. But that is not correct. For something like this, all the bishops of the world have to follow the directives of the Pope. So it would not happen that some bishop would not forgive it; he has to.

Please see the next comment for the part about indulgences.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Pope Francis gave a good explanation of indulgences in his document for the year of mercy. I'll copy it here.

"A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy. God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident his love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the paschal mystery and the mediation of the Church. Thus God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising. Nevertheless, all of us know well the experience of sin. We know that we are called to perfection (cf. Mt 5:48), yet we feel the heavy burden of sin. Though we feel the transforming power of grace, we also feel the effects of sin typical of our fallen state. Despite being forgiven, the conflicting consequences of our sins remain. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.

The Church lives within the communion of the saints. In the Eucharist, this communion, which is a gift from God, becomes a spiritual union binding us to the saints and blessed ones whose number is beyond counting (cf. Rev 7:4). Their holiness comes to the aid of our weakness in a way that enables the Church, with her maternal prayers and her way of life, to fortify the weakness of some with the strength of others. Hence, to live the indulgence of the Holy Year means to approach the Father’s mercy with the certainty that his forgiveness extends to the entire life of the believer. To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in his merciful “indulgence.'”

So as the Pope explains, this indulgence is to be understood as an encounter with the loving mercy of God. Actually the Church grants indulgences all the time; Catholics can acquire them every day. But during the Year of Mercy it will be even easier.

I hope these points are helpful to you. May God bless you!

Anonymous said...

An indulgence is not "time off of Purgatory." This is a common misconception, even among Catholics. An indulgence is a statement that love of God and love of neighbor is more valuable than penance. In pre Vatican II days some prayers had a time period attached to them. A card with a prayer on it might have something like "3 years indulgence" printed at the bottom. This does not mean you get three years off your sentence in Purgatory, like probation for a prison sentence. It means that the love and devotion expressed in the prayer (which takes only a few minutes to say) is the same as doing 3 years of canonical penance. Canonical penance is something like fasting or other forms of self-denial. This idea of giving indulgences for acts of love was instituted centuries ago to teach the faithful the great Biblical principle that true love of God and true love of neighbor is superior to mere acts of self-denial. Self-denial is merely a tool that is designed to lead the soul to curb selfishness in order to love God and neighbor more than self. It is a means to an end, not the end itself. Love is the pinnacle of the spiritual life. That's what indulgences were all about in the beginning. The true meaning of them has been lost over the years.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Thank you so much, Sister, for taking the time to answer my points so fully. I really appreciate it.

I write several short stories about Fr Ignatius, a character from my first book "VISIONS". The fictional stories are based on the Catholic faith. I have to be very careful therefore that I do not write anything contrary to that faith. Abortion, is specifically a subject I have not written about, thus far.

God bless you for all your good works, and for writing this Blog.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

You're welcome, Victor! Good luck with your writing--your stories sound interesting! God bless!

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your clarifying comments about indulgences too. Anyone interested in more info on them could check out this article, too,by Fr Saunders:

Victor S E Moubarak said...

You can download some of my stories FREE from here:

God bless.