Monday, February 2, 2009

Abortion and Excommunication

Much of what I'm going to share with you in this blog are lessons I have learned in pastoral ministry -- and that is what it is, even though I have never set foot in a seminary classroom nor can ever be ordained in the Church as it is today.

This is the commentary I posted on another blog, that made me decide to start my own blog again. People who did not read it carefully accused me of supporting abortion and offering my own very liberal opinion instead of accurate Church teachings. But that is NOT what the commentary was about. Rather, it was an appeal to the Church to be less hard-hearted with women who have had abortions, to temper the pro-life rhetoric with compassion and maybe start to take more steps to create a society where abortion is no longer viewed as a necessary option because all neglected children, even those with severe birth defects, have found loving homes, where all mothers have access to adequate prenatal care and delivery services, and where employees of Catholic institutions in particular are not fired for being unwed and pregnant because they are viewed as a "bad example". We need to become an authentically pro-life -- and not just pro-foetus -- Church.

"Can someone truly reach forgiveness after abortion?" Let me try to answer it both legally and psychologically.


According to Canon Law: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication." (CIC 1398). However, what the Church often does not tell you is that Canon Law also allows for several extenuating circumstances in cases where the penalty might normally be excommunication. These may include:

*a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age;

* a person who without any fault was unaware of violating a law;

* a person who acted out of grave fear;

* a person who lacked the use of reason. (CIC 1323)

It is important to note that even if the person is not legally excommunicated, she is still in a state of mortal sin and must go to confession before receiving communion. A complete discussion of this issue is available on the Canon Law Professionals Web site:

One additional point: Even though technically only a bishop or higher ranking Church official can remove the penalty of excommunication, in many diocese, including Arlington, this power has been delegated to all priests working in the diocese in most cases of first time abortions. So if you have had an abortion and thought that you could never be reconciled with the Church, please try to find a priest you can talk to. It may not be as hard as you think to come home again.


Sometimes it may be difficult for a woman who has had an abortion to forgive herself or to feel that she is forgiven by the Church. Sometimes it seems like her sin is thrown at her again and again even though she has followed the proper procedure for reconciliation with the Church. These feelings are normal given the climate in the Catholic Church towards women who have had abortions. If the feelings of depression, worthlessness and anger become overwhelming, it may be worthwhile taking advantage of the counseling services offered by a group such as Project Rachel ( which is specifically geared towards Catholic women. Proyecto Raquel brinda ayuda en español también.

One can never be sure how one will act. Probably the hardest aspect of having an abortion for a Catholic woman is that she has spent her life telling herself that she would never, NEVER do such a thing, and then a situation arises where she can't face carrying the pregnancy to term and all her certainties and resolve fly out the window. That is why it is so important in our pastoral work not to be hard or judgemental. We never know what that woman was/is going through.

One of the saddest cases I met was a woman who had an abortion because she was here on a domestic worker visa with a diplomatic family and she was afraid that her employer would send her home if she found out she was pregnant and she, the two existing children she was supporting with her wages, and her newborn would go hungry. Nunca sabemos lo que pasa en la vida de la persona.

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