In anticipation of the rapidly approaching Holy Year of Mercy, which begins on 8 December, Pope Francis recently granted that priest confessors throughout the world would be authorized to “absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it [abortion] and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.” The authorization is being given in the context of God’s Mercy, the overriding theme of the Jubilee Year.
Under existing Canon Law, abortion entails the penalty of excommunication. This is to state that anyone who willingly participates in an abortion – not only the woman involved – experiences excommunication latae sententiae (i.e, ipso facto, automatically) which normally can be removed by the local bishop or his delegate. Here, in the United States, however, most bishops have already granted their priests the faculty to remove the penalty, if it was incurred. What Pope Francis has done, as Supreme Pastor of the Church, would mean extending to all Catholic priests the authority to “absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”
Abortion is obviously a great tragedy, encompassing a number of victims; moreover, its severe effects are as enduring as they are profound. The Holy Father, while stressing as much, added that he was acutely aware of women “who bear in their heart the scars of the procedure.” Yet, he added, “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.”
In an interesting conclusion, Pope Francis intends to extend the Church’s merciful outreach to “those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St. Pius X,” while at the same time hoping that solutions may soon be found “to recover full communion” with priests of the aforesaid Fraternity.