POPE SPEAKS ON FORGIVENESS, EXCOMMUNICATION AND ABORTION, CONFUSION ENSUES
By Nancy Valko, RN ALNC
September 2, 2015
A recent Reuters news article “Pope to allow all priests to forgive abortion during Holy Year“, stated that
In Church teaching, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication. Usually only designated clergy and missionaries can formally forgive abortions.
That was news to many of us like Carol who wrote in a comment on the article:
Catholic priests have forgiven abortion for years! The Catholic church has always been concerned for the souls of women who have abortions! There are many Catholic programs for counseling and healing women who have had abortions. Check out Rachel’s Vineyard, one of many. This is just not news.
However, to many in the public and even some devout Catholics, the article seemed to show that Pope Francis and possibly the Catholic Church were softening on the issue of abortion.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FORGIVENESS, EXCOMMUNICATION AND ABORTION
As Cardinal Chaput of Philadelphia explains simply in an article “Chaput Praises Pope’s Abortion Stance“:
“For many years now, parish priests have been given permission to absolve the sin of abortion here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Chaput said in the statement. “But the practice has not been common in various other regions of the world.” (emphasis added)
Chaput added: “This action in no way diminishes the moral gravity of abortion. What it does do is make access to sacramental forgiveness easier for anyone who seeks it with a truly penitent heart.”
Questions and concerns about excommunication are addressed on pages 67-69 of Project Rachel Ministry: A Post-Abortion Resource Manual for Priests and Project Rachel Ministry Leaders. Here is an excerpt:
It is commonly thought that the Church excommunicates all Catholics who have procured a successful abortion. However, probably in a great many cases, mitigating or extenuating circumstances prevent the individual from incurring the censure of excommunication. The tragedy of abortion triggers distinct and separate questions regarding the personal responsibility of one who has procured a successful abortion: has a sin been committed? If so, was the commission of that sin such that it also resulted in the incurring of a penalty?
Years ago when I was in home health, I was assigned to “Jane” (not her real name), an elderly woman who was dying of heart disease. The doctor said he was amazed that Jane had lived this long in an assisted living apartment. The home health agency told me that this woman was a very difficult patient who had fired every nurse who saw her. I was told that I was a last resort to try to help her. I could only hope that I would be equal to the challenge.
Sure enough, on my first appointment, Jane was very critical and negative. She seemed immune to positive comments and encouragement. I recognized that Jane was very troubled and I tried to find out more about her. I discovered that Jane was a widow with few if any friends and a daughter in California who could only visit occasionally. Jane raged daily against the limitations that her disease caused and the the medical establishment in general.
However, after several visits, Jane slowly softened and even showed a glimmer of a sense of humor. I liked her spirit.
Part of my duties was to measure her swollen abdomen and legs to determine if the diuretic (water pill) was working as intended to lessen the workload on her heart.
Then one day as I was measuring her abdomen, she commented that she looked 9 months pregnant and uncharacteristically started sobbing. She told me that she had had an abortion over 60 years ago before she was married and lost who she assumed was a son. Now she felt God was punishing her by making her look pregnant. Out of shame, Jane had told no one-not even her late husband-about the abortion.
She admitted that she was afraid of dying because she knew she would then have to go to hell because she had committed the “unforgivable sin” of abortion. I was stunned.
I reassured her that there was no such thing as an “unforgivable sin” and that God is all-merciful. I also told her about Project Rachel, how I could help her contact them, and that she deserved the peace of forgiveness from God and especially from herself.
Slowly, her outlook changed and even though she never called Project Rachel (she insisted that our talks and contacting a priest were enough), her spirits lifted. She died peacefully a few days later.
Postscript: I was later told by a priest that he was reluctant to preach about abortion because he realized that some in his parish probably had had an abortion and he didn’t want to cause them more pain and drive them away from church.
I told him Jane’s story and said that if he did not discuss abortion, he was depriving his parish of understanding the damage abortion causes, the help of groups like Project Rachel and the mercy of God’s forgiveness.
I know Jane would be pleased.