Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Abortion and the Year of Mercy: Why we're not overwhelmed

"...The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. 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. 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 fulfil 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..."

from Pope Francis' Letter of the Holy Father according to which an Indulgence is granted to the faithful on the occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (1st September 2015)

While everyone is getting excited about this proclamation, I believe it's critical to remind readers that it does not represent a significant change in Church policy towards abortion. In many diocese, particularly in the United States, abortion is so widespread that bishops have already delegated to all priests working under them the authority to lift the excommunication, hear the woman's confession and absolve her from the sin of abortion as long as she is duly penitent. Pope Francis is merely extending that practice to the entire Catholic Church worldwide and only for one year. This can hardly be qualified as revolutionary. In fact, it is perhaps more of an indication of a revolution in Pope Francis' thinking from his originally stated intentions to leave such decisions to the local bishops. The pope is now more willing to impose a practice worldwide on matters that he would have previously left up to the local churches.

This being said, the tone of the letter and particularly the pope's acknowledgement that most women do not choose to resort to abortion except under considerable pressure, should offer hope to women that they will find a more sympathetic ear and let them know that reconciliation with the Church is possible.

Now, I would like to suggest that Pope Francis do something truly revolutionary in this area, which would obviate the need for this special "permission": remove abortion from the list of automatically excommunicable offenses. Strike Canon 1398 -- "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" -- and move abortion back where it belongs in Canon 1397, so that it is not treated any differently than any other form of homicide for sacramental purposes. Such a change would not detract from the serious nature of the sin of abortion but it would create a policy that does not have the side effect of treating women differently and more harshly than men.

Article 2272 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. 'A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,' 'by the very commission of the offense,' and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society" -- would also have to be modified accordingly.

It is morally and ethically illogical that killing a baby in the womb (abortion) is considered differently than killing that baby immediately after it has emerged from the womb (infanticide). If Pope Francis could correct this teaching, we would really have a reason to rejoice. Until then, nothing has fundamentally changed.

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