Friday, September 04, 2015

What the pope said re: confession & abortion

A lot of people are talking about what Pope Francis said last week about giving priests faculties to absolve the sin of abortion, as well as what he said about priests affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and given them faculties so they can validly hear confessions during the special Jubilee next year.

This requires some explanation.

As you may know, in March Pope Francis declared a special Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, 2015, and to extend until November 20, 2016. His hope is that during this time, all Catholics will reflect deeply on God’s mercy, especially as he makes it available in the sacraments – the sacrament of confession in particular:

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”

Pope Francis expressed the hope that this year “might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.”

A lot of people are confused; they didn't know that priests couldn't already absolve the sin of abortion.

Church law deems some sins so grave as to require the bishop – not a priest – to absolve them; such is the case for procuring an abortion. That said, however, in this Archdiocese (and I suspect in many other places), priests were already given faculties to absolve the sin of abortion. What the pope did was extend this faculty to priests worldwide.

Another aspect of this is that Church law makes distinctions between sin, crime and sanction. I'm not an expert in these matters, and unless I write it carefully, I'll confuse the matter. Instead, here's an article by an eminent expert in the field.

What about the grant of faculties to SSPX priests? That can be explained two ways.

First, this may be a gesture the pope is making to hasten reconciliation. The SSPX was formed in 1970 by a tradition-oriented French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, in the wake of Vatican II. In 1988, Lefebvre ordained four bishops in defiance of Pope John Paul II, creating a conflict that has not yet been healed, although Pope Benedict made many efforts to do so, and Pope Francis has continued in the same vein.

The second factor is this: priests affiliated with the SSPX, because it’s in an irregular relationship with the Vatican, do not have faculties to hear confessions or to officiate at weddings. Because there are people who are very attached to the traditional Mass, who in good faith seek confession from SSPX priests, this is a way to meet their needs.

In any case, these are two concrete steps the pope is making to foster more people coming to confession; which I hope spurs all of us, of whatever situation, to seek God’s mercy in confession.

But it isn’t all about the pope, or even priests. Each of us is called to be a messenger and bearer of mercy. If we hope others will go to confession, are we going ourselves? Are we offering forgiveness in our own lives?

Finally, here's something I got from the Archdiocese:

Much of the news coverage about Pope Francis extending to all priests the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion and remove the automatic excommunication that can incur has been misleading and confusing.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati wants to make it clear that our priests have already had this faculty for many years. No one who has received absolution for this sin from a priest of the Archdiocese, acting as the instrument of God’s mercy, should doubt the validity of the sacrament.

No priest can engage in sacramental ministry without being granted faculties to do so by the local bishop. What is included in those faculties is detailed in writing. Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, as permitted by canon law, have long been granted by the Archbishop “the faculty to absolve the sin (of abortion) and to remit the (automatic) penalty” of excommunication. 

As St. John Paul II assured post-abortive women in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, “The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” The Catholic Church also offers compassionate post-abortion healing through Project Rachel.


Anonymous said...

First, thanks for explaining this as much of it has been confusing to people like me. Second, Mercy is important and I don't think it has been the emphasis that the year of mercy hopefully will generate. The coming year is one to look forward to.Finally, I have avoided the SSPX masses because I have never really understood their relationship with the Church. They are one of the only sources of the TLM in the liberal northeast. Now, I might give thought to attending one of their liturgies. I think though I would rather attend a TLM that is in full communion with the Church.

Trooper York said...

Thank you for explains this Father. It is important to have a source you can trust.

I don't trust the news media on this issue.

Or this Pope.

Marc Puckett said...

So the Ordinaries in Cincinnati have taken care to delegate to priests the faculty to remit any incurred-because-of-abortion latae sententiae excommunications-- but the fact is that the Holy Father's letter doesn't say anything about the excommunication: are we to assume that he gesturally includes that somehow? I appreciate the mercy but I'd suggest that his Holiness might take advice from more capable advisers than whoever wrote the Letter of concession, ahem-- but maybe it is universal practice to mean absolution/lifting of excommunication all in one breath.