This is the most important thing I will ever write on this blog. If I get nothing else through to any reader here, long-time visitor or new, I would want it to be this.
There is no sin that we little mortal humans can commit which is so bad that our infinite and loving God will not forgive us, provided that we are sorry for our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.
The way that our Savior Himself desired that we confess our sins and receive forgiveness is through the sacrament He instituted while still with us on earth, the sacrament of penance/reconciliation.
When you confess all the mortal sins you are aware of to a priest confessor and he gives you absolution, those sins are gone, removed, taken away. They are no more. They are not just covered over. They are not just ignored. They are no more. The sin may have been horrible, as red as blood and scarlet. You may still have the burden of the memory and other scars from that sin. You may have a lot of penance to do because of that sin. You might need additional help or counseling. But when you receive sacramental absolution, you have been washed clean in the Blood of Christ, who died for your salvation and who forgives you through the person of the priest. When you receive absolution for your good, sincere confession, you have been forgiven. And you can know that you have been forgiven and not just have to guess or wonder or hope.
Everything we have been given by Christ through Holy Church aims at bringing as many people as possible to the happiness of heaven. Nothing else is more important than that goal.
You don’t have to live in the knowledge of your unforgiven sins. You can seek reconciliation. And when you obtain it, you don’t have to doubt it.
Since I posted about the visiting priests in Spain at WYD receiving from the local bishop the faculty to lift excommunications resulting from procuring an abortion I have been getting notes in my email from people who are filled with anxiety, afraid that they are in spiritual danger or that they have not been forgiven their past sin, sometimes many years in the past. A few people are really scared about this.
It is good to be scared about sins. A little fear is healthy and pushes us to get ourselves in order. A lot of fear, too much fear, is unhealthy and can paralyze us rather than motivate us. Sometimes lack of knowledge about something makes us more afraid than we have to be. Knowledge about the Church’s teachings and laws can not only spur us to a little anxious action, but can also put us at our ease, reassure us that we didn’t actually do wrong or incur a censure we were worried about. Knowledge helps.
That said, and that was the really important part for everyone, let’s turn back to that WYD issue about excommunication and abortion.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church states in can. 1398 that there is a sanction, a penalty, a censure imposed on people who participate in the procuring of an abortion. Censures are intended to help people understand the spiritual danger they are in and seek a remedy, and also in the case of publicly known situations let other people know that there is something gravely wrong with the behavior that incurred the censure.
Excommunication is a censure that means a person cannot receive the sacraments, any sacrament, until there is reconciliation and a lifting of the excommunication by the ecclesiastical authority of the proper level. The person also cannot hold any ecclesial office while under such a censure. Some censures can be absolved by diocesan bishops or their delegates, some are reserved to the Holy See and must be absolved by the Holy Father, the Apostolic Penitentiary, or a confessor to whom the faculty to lift the censure has been given. Once the excommunication is absolved, then the person can also receive absolution for the sin which incurred the excommunication and any other sins besides.
There are those cases when the sin and the censure are not public knowledge (they are “occult” in the sense that they are not widely known and have not been formally declared) when a confessor (and by “confessor” I mean a priest who has faculties to receive sacramental confessions) can absolve a person from a censure for a period of time, while placing that person under the strict obligation to seek reconciliation from the proper authority, such as the local bishop or the Holy See. If the person doesn’t seek reconciliation in the given length of time, 30 days, then he once again falls under the censure. An example of this might be the case of a priest who does something to incur a censure which is not public knowledge or declared. However, he cannot fulfill his duties while the censure is in force. Furthermore, scandal must be avoided, Masses must be said, confessions heard, people married, buried and baptized, etc. Therefore he can receive absolution from a confessor and fulfill his duties, but under the strict obligation to seek fuller reconciliation from the proper authority, such as the local bishop or the Holy See. In that case, the confessor and penitent priest would have an appointment set up for the near future and the confessor could then seek from the proper authority the faculty to lift the censure the next time the penitent priest returned. The same could be applied, say to a lay man, say, a seminarian facing ordination. It may be that many years in the past he did something that incurred a censure that has never been lifted. He learns about this in canon law class and seeks a confessor who can lift the censure so that when he is validly ordained he would not be actually suspended a divinis from the moment of his ordination. The ordination would be valid, but illicit because the ordinand was irregular for Holy Orders, but not irregular in a way that made the ordination invalid. Even if no one else knew about any of this, he would know and that would scorch him from within and taint his priesthood until he was reconciled properly.
To incur an excommunication a person must be 16 years or older, aware of the gravely sinful nature of the action, aware that it incurs the censure, have the use of reason and must be acting with unimpaired free will. If a person is in state of fear or is mentally disturbed, if a person is being coerced, or is otherwise not able to exercise free will, he or she does not incur the censure.
That said, abortion is a crime/sin which incurs automatic excommunication if there are not mitigating factors. It can be hard to determine in some case the level of a person’s participation in the sin of another, but certainly the medical personnel who perform the abortion and those supplying the means and money for it, and who counseled it or provoked it would fall into that category. If the mother herself knows it is wrong, knows there is a censure and does it anyway from free will, even if she is a little afraid, she incurs the excommunication. A woman who is terrified, truly fearful, perhaps bullied by an angry husband, parent, boyfriend, does not incur it because her freedom is compromised.
If you are worried about yourself, seek a confessor right away and lay out the whole story, even it is painful or embarrassing. Priests maintain the secrets of confession. They do not break the Seal of Confession. What you say there, stays there and will not be revealed to any one on earth unless you permit it. Even with your permission the priest will be reluctant and probably won’t say anything. And this is something I have noted even among the most goofy liberal priests: even they protect and maintain the Seal of Confession.
It could be that the priests of a diocese, your diocese, have been granted the faculty to absolve the censure of excommunication incurred by participation in an abortion. In most places these days that is the case for priests in their own dioceses. This is why the bishop in Spain where WYD is gave the faculty to absolve the censure of excommunication to all the visiting priests as well as his own priests. It may be that the priest you talk to will have to seek the faculty or that he will tell you that you must seek the bishop. But in most cases, a priest in his own diocese will probably be able to absolve the censure.
No matter what he tells you in regard to getting that censure lifted, no matter how hard it might seem or embarrassing at the moment, it will be worth it.
If you are excommunicated you may not receive the sacraments, including the sacrament of penance. You must get that censure lifted.
NEVER NEVER NEVER omit confessing a mortal sin which you do in fact remember and know that you haven’t yet confessed. If you purposely omit confessing a mortal sin, you do not receive valid absolution or the graces of the sacrament. Just DON’T DO THAT. Always confess everything in both kind (what the sin is) and number (how many times).
If you were involved directly and in an active way in the procuring of an abortion, and if you have not confessed that to a priest confessor with the faculty to lift the excommunication or to a bishop, then you have an important task to do, as soon as you can. If you are worried about whether or not you incurred an excommunication or you were properly absolved, seek out a sound, knowledgeable confessor very soon. Don’t delay. Make a place in your oh-so-busy schedule for this soul-saving heart-healing matter.
In most places these days, at least in the USA, priests have been given by their bishops the faculty to lift the excommunication resulting from abortion.
No earthly pursuit is as important as your eternal salvation and your peace of mind.
Email isn’t really a good way to deal with these issues, friends. Most people’s situations are both very personal and also usually involve circumstances that cannot easily be related in writing because of the privacy of others.
You need a conversation with a good, knowledgeable priest confessor who can either put you at your ease or put you back on course.
Again, what follows is the most important thing I could ever write on this blog.
There is no sin we little people can commit that cannot be forgiven provided that we are truly sorry for it and ask God’s forgiveness through His priests and are willing to amend our lives.