One thing is assured any time the pope – any pope – talks about a “controversial” topic. People will listen. Even people who have eschewed the Catholic Church and all she stands for if for no other reason to ridicule and lecture Catholics. Well, Pope Francis made a change, again, in the absolution procedures for the sin of procuring, assisting in or causing an abortion, and all hell has broken loose. Unlike earlier in the year when a procedural convenience was made permanent, this change actually is a change.
Allow me to explain.
In the full list of sins for Catholics, abortion is one of a handful that are so heinous, they are in a category that automatically incurs what is called latae sententiae excommunication. That means that “by the act” the human puts himself or herself OUTSIDE of the Christian Community. This is not a formal bull of excommunication that is posted for heresy (teaching or espousing that which is against the Church in one way or another), but a very personal sort of separation. However, in order to have the excommunication lifted – this is a spiritual remedy, not a punishment – which would allow for absolution (it is not granted if one is excommunicated), there is some administrative paperwork that needs to happen.
Earlier in his pontificate, Pope Francis officially transferred the paperwork procedure to the parishes for abortion, rather than sending it through the bishops’ offices, a practice that had been in place in the United States and other western nations infested with modernism for decades. It just made things smoother. With Monday’s move, Canon Law actually will have to be changed as the formal procedure of lifting the excommunication has been dropped.
“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” the pope wrote. “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”
Speaking to reporters during a Vatican news conference Nov. 21, Archbishop Rino Fisichella said procuring an abortion still results in automatic excommunication the very moment the procedure is carried out.
Sacramental absolution, therefore, is not just forgiving the sin of abortion, but also means “the excommunication is removed,” he said.
Now that all priests have been given the faculty to lift the excommunication and grant absolution, the Code of Canon Law will have to be updated, said the archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, the office that organized events for the Year of Mercy.
Pope Francis, truly, has picked up the baton of a number of late 19th century and 20th century figures in Catholicism when it comes to his message on God’s mercy. The main proponent of the message was Pope Saint John Paul II, along with a Polish nun known to him during his life who was canonized during his pontificate. Her name is St. Faustina, the Divine Mercy image to the left is taken from an entry in her papers, and her diary speaks of Divine Mercy in terms many never considered before. (It’s a tough, but good read.) By declaring the just completed Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds the flock that returning to God is always possible, yes, even for those who are involved with abortion. The Church is a hospital for sinners, not an exclusive club.
In Catholicism, though, there is a catch to receiving absolution no matter what your sins. Confession must be made, and the Penance (the real name of the Sacrament) must be carried out with a contrite heart. We are supposed to be sorry for our sins. That’s something a lot of us need to work on.