From a reader:
Father, back in a “former life” I committed the grave sin of assisting a young lady I knew in grad school to commit an abortion. I regretted it from the start and within a year I had gone to confession to confess that heinous sin.
As I recall (this was almost 20 years ago), at the time I knew it was an “auto-excommunicable” offense so I asked Father what was involved in receiving absolution. I recall him saying that his absolution was sufficient.
Since then I have become much more aware of laxity among clergy, but at the time I was not. So now I question whether the priest really had the authority to absolve me of that sin and whether I carry it to this day.
Should I mention this to my current confessor? Am I being scrupulous? Should I abstain from receiving the Lord in the Eucharist?
Some canonists think that the whole issue of latae sententiae penalties should be rethought. This is one of those situations which suggest that they may be right. These penalties can leave people with doubts about their status. I understand that there is a revision of Book VI currently underway. The Eastern Code doesn’t have latae sententiae penalties, by the way.
The Ordo Penitentiae states,
“The form of absolution is not to be changed when a priest, in keeping with the provision of law, absolves a properly disposed penitent within the sacramental forum from a censure latae sententiae. It is enough that the confessor intend to absolve also from the censures.”
The confessor may use, but is not required to use, the formula for lifting a censure which is used in the external forum:
“By the power granted to me, I absolve you from the bond of excommunication (or suspension or interdict). In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”
So, you were absolved and you are not under the penalty of excommunication. There is no need to mention it again, unless you decide to make a general confession, or unless you are trying to fill a confessor/spiritual director in on your past history.