ASK FATHER: Excommunication after abortion and absolution

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

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.

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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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7 Responses to ASK FATHER: Excommunication after abortion and absolution

  1. AMTFisher says:

    While I really love the Council of Trent, my favorite quote from any of the Councils was from Lateran IV. “…the sacrament of baptism is consecrated in water at the invocation of the undivided Trinity — namely Father, Son and holy Spirit — and brings salvation to both children and adults when it is correctly carried out by anyone in the form laid down by the church. If someone falls into sin after having received baptism, he or she can always be restored through true penitence. For not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain to eternal blessedness.” (Lateran IV, Constitutions 1)

  2. StWinefride says:

    It is worth remembering this too:

    “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”.

    https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-B_aCBtIaEWs/TY4QeqkJyyI/AAAAAAAABN4/m50RM3Bshlg/s640/lost+sheep.jpg

  3. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    Don’t forget that any priest with faculties may, in the sacrament of confession, remit a latae sententiae excommunication or interdict si paenitenti durum sit in statu gravis oeccati permanere per tempus necessarium ut Superior competens provideat. (CIC can. 1357) To do this, he has to tell the penitent that the penitent must have recourse within a month to a competent authority to fully remit the excommunication. However, the recourse may be had through the priest himself, who approaches the ordinary without mentioning the name of the Penitent. In other words, even in those rare dioceses where the Bishop may not have granted the priest the power to remit the penalty, he may still do so, as they pursue recourse with the Bishop.

  4. frbkelly says:

    Fr. Z says,

    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).

    FYI
    Priests incardinated in the diocese of Lincoln _do not_ generally have his faculty.
    Our bishop concedes it to us during Advent and Lent and during Parish Missions and Periods of public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but outside these situations, we must have recourse to the bishop himself or his penitentiary in order to obtain them.

    [Thanks for that good information.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. 2H84 says:

    That’s interesting wording at the end of this:

    “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”

    “as your needs require”? Does that mean that, if you don’t to be fully un-excommunicated, there are intermediate stated that may apply?

    [It is typically Roman language, intended to cover a host of issues.]

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  7. Thank you Fr. Z for answering this reader’s question. There is so much confusion out there about whether or not abortion is a forgivable sin. I need to be reminded myself from time to time. No doubt you will help many with this clear explanation. The priest I first confessed my abortion to told me that he couldn’t guarantee my absolution – that was a long time ago, however. Even with that experience, I would encourage anyone who has had an abortion or may have participated in one in any way – go to confession. What you need is there, just go. It will be the beginning of a remarkable, ridiculously lavish feeling of love and healing whether you feel it every moment after or not. His mercy is magnificent!