When I was very far away from the Church in apostasy, I asked a girl to take emergency contraception (not sure if she was pregnant). I knew that this was an excommunicable act, but I persisted because I hated the Church and I wanted nothing to do with it. A few years ago, I realized all the evil I’ve done and I have been striving through tears and penance to make some atonement for all I did out of hatred and disobedience. Back then, I was referred by the local Chancery to the priest nearest me for Confession, but I’m not sure the person who referred me understood the need for faculties to rescind excommunication. Recently, I confessed this sin to a priest who told me that all priests were given such faculties by John Paul II and he could restore me to Communion–he seemed very certain. I tried to contact the local Chancery to arrange Confession with the Bishop, but to no avail. I weep for my sins and I want to be reconciled to God and his Church. How can I do properly do penance? Should I trust what the priest recently told me? Should I continue to call the Chancery? Should I refrain from Communion until I have a definite answer? I pray for you, Father, and I ask you to pray for me. Please don’t use any identifying information if this goes on the blog. Thank you and God bless you.
I am not aware of any diocese in these USA where the local bishop has not given his priests the faculty to lift the censure of excommunication for procuring an abortion (c. 1398), as well as the censure of excommunication for committing an act of apostasy (c. 1364).
If the chancery referred you to the priest nearest you, it is safe to assume that all the priests in that diocese have been given the faculty.
The priest who told you that St. John Paul II gave all priests this faculty may have either been confused, or unclear – St. John Paul, in promulgating the 1983 Code, gave bishops the ability to grant this faculty to their priests.
Precisely for these situations, priests who generally use the newer form for the Sacrament of Penance should familiarize themselves with what their faculties are! They should review them on a regular basis with other priests of their diocese to make sure that everyone’s on the same page.
I also suggest that priests review the forms of sacraments, especially that of absolution give in the Sacrament of Penance. C’mon, Fathers! Stop making it up? I digress.
In addition, priests should be familiar with and utilize the formula for lifting an ecclesiastical penalty, found in Appendix I of the Rite of Penance. Although this formula is not required to be used for the valid lifting of a penalty (sacramental absolution with the intent to lift the penalty is sufficient), using the formula can help to ease the consciences of those who have committed acts worthy of censure.
In the older, traditional form, of the formula of absolution, the priest mentions the sorts of censures that he can absolve, along with a phrase meaning “insofar as you need them and I can absolve them”:
May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require.
For further clarity, folks should have recourse to Dr. Ed Peters’ book, Excommunication and the Catholic Church.
Remember, there is no sin that we little mortals can commit that is so bad that God will not forgive, provided we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. God’s mercy is magnificent and it is ours for the asking.