Some clarity about the faculty Francis gave priests to “absolve the sin of abortion”

Artgate_Fondazione_Cariplo_-_Molteni_Giuseppe,_La_confessione 945At CNN we find a story about how Pope Francis extended to priests indefinitely the ability to absolve the sin of abortion. He had hitherto given it only for the Year of Mercy, which is now closed.

(CNN)Pope Francis has extended indefinitely the power of Catholic priests to forgive abortions, making the announcement in an apostolic letter released Monday.

It continues a special dispensation granted last year for the duration of the Year of Mercy — which finished Sunday — which gave all priests, rather than just bishops and specially designated confessors, the power to absolve the sin of abortion.
While the practical effect of Francis’ announcement remains unclear, it draws attention to the prevailing theme of his papacy: That the doors of the Church must remain open, just as God’s forgiveness and mercy extend to all those who repent from sin.
That said, the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion has not changed — it is still viewed as a “grave sin.” But it makes it easier for women who have had abortions to be absolved for their actions, and rejoin the church. [They are still in the Church.  But if they have incurred the sin of excommunication, they may not be absolved or receive Communion.  The censure must be lifted.  Then they may be absolved and they can go to Communion.  Meanwhile, they are still obliged to all the things other Catholics are obliged to, including going to Mass on days of obligation.]
“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” the Pope’s letter states.
“In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.
The letter continues: “May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.
“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.”

[…]

Something needs to be made clear. Every time the issue of confession of the sin of successfully procured abortion comes up, something needs to be made clear.

Priests have long had the power to forgive the sin of abortion. However, procuring an abortion incurs also a censure of excommunication, which is to be absolved in a separate step. Canon law reserves the lifting of this particular excommunication to the bishop. Pope Francis extended this faculty to lift the excommunication to all priests. Most of the bishops in these USA have already given this faculty to their priests as a response to the growing numbers of abortions performed. That speeds up the reconciliation process many times.

ALSO… and this is important.  It is not just the women who go for the abortion who commit the sin and incur the censure.  Men involved can incur it.  Anyone directly involved can commit the sin and incur the censure.   There are many ways to participate in the sin of another person: 9 ways! You can be guilty of the sin committed by another

  1. By counsel (to give advice, one’s opinion or instructions.)
  2. By command (to demand, to order, such as in the military.)
  3. By consent (to give permission, to approve, to agree to.)
  4. By provocation (to dare.)
  5. By praise or flattery (to cheer, to applaud, to commend.)
  6. By concealment (to hide the action, to cover-up.)
  7. By partaking (to take part, to participate.)
  8. By silence (by playing dumb, by remaining quiet.)
  9. By defense of the ill done (to justify, to argue in favour.)

One can argue about how directly you must be involved to be guilty of the sin and also to incur the censure.  Paying?  Driving?  Urging?  Working in the clinic?  Etc.  However, if you have any doubts about your own state of participation in such a thing, you should find a good, solid confessor and put the whole thing to him in the context of sacramental confession or internal forum discussion.

You can see how the logic of lifting or absolving censures and absolving sins works by reviewing the older, traditional form of the words of absolution. The priest mentions censures before he absolves sins.

May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) [that “suspension” is used for clerics, in case they did something that incurred suspension a divinis] and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Thereupon, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“As far as my power allows” (i.e., if I have the faculty to absolve the thing you incurred… there’s an old adage “Nemo dat quod non ‘got’!” You can’t give what you don’t have.), “and your needs require”, (i.e., whatsoever thing you might have incurred).  This language covers all the bases.

The newer form of absolution does not mention censures. There are different forms a priest can use, if memory serves, provided in the Ordo Paenitentiae.

The Church had all this stuff about censures and sins worked out.

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16 Responses to Some clarity about the faculty Francis gave priests to “absolve the sin of abortion”

  1. Michael says:

    The Pope’s frequent emphasis on Confession is welcome, as is his personal example of going to Confession. I can only imagine how many souls have been reconciled to the Father by imitating Pope Francis’ personal example.

    But I simply don’t understand why his letters can’t spell out clearly the differences between sins and censures (in this case), and between faculties for priests and absolution of sins for the faithful (for the SSPX.) Perhaps there is an underlying point to each, but I can’t discern it. And unlike in the case of Amoris Laetitia, there doesn’t seem to be any ulterior motive or effect to speaking in circles. And if there’s no point to it, why not just speak clearly? It’s very confusing.

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    So, is it true in all cases that the power to absolve must include the power to lift any censures (specifically, excommunication) associated with the moral act? For every instance of the act? I ask this because I thought the two (absolution and lifting of a censure) could be separated.

    This is a great mercy in the case of abortions, since some women may have had more than one. I hope that abortions do not become downgraded as a result of this. The fear of excommunication may be the only reason some babies lived to be born.

    The Chicken

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Father, thank you for this post…There are many canonists and priests on line who deny latae sententiae unless the person knows the canon. [There are several factors which can mitigate the situation.] Now, as abortion is an intrinsic evil, the excommunication is immediate and must be taken away. A priest in England once showed me his faculties for taking away the excommunication brought on by abortion.

    I did not know that all priests had this in the States, and I am wondering if this is true. Some do….some when asked, do not know…if they all have this in their faculties, why do they not know?

    I assume priests can read the Latin in their faculties.

    [The point is that what Francis did was extend the faculty to priests to life the censure… if it was incurred.]

  4. Thomistica says:

    “…if you have any doubts about your own state of participation in such a thing, you should find a good, solid confessor and put the whole thing to him in the context of sacramental confession or internal forum discussion.”
    Fr. Z, can you clarify the sense in which you use the term “internal forum discussion” here? Thanks

  5. JustaSinner says:

    So abortion is not so bad…go to confession, a few Hail Mary’s, viola? I am missing something for sure…

  6. Hans says:

    Is there a limit to the links in this chain, or perhaps even any reason to think there is a necessary limit?

    Say, for instance, that someone (#3) defends (as not guilty of any wrong) someone else (#2) who defends (or in the instance I’m thinking of, promotes or encourages) another someone else (#1) who had an abortion, as well as the nature of the act itself. Clearly they’re wrong both logically and morally (even if I had been on a very tall horse, which I wasn’t), but how much or what sort of guilt would the third (or fourth, etc.) party incur?

  7. Worm-120 says:

    Where do you draw the line between being silent and concealing somebody’s sins, and respecting their privacy? Is there a point where you are obliged to reveal something told to you in confidence?

    [It depends on the situation, but in the case of abortion, etc., it would be BAD to run around telling other what someone else has done.]

  8. LouLou says:

    Oh no. I have a family member who underwent an abortion. She repented and confessed but does not know about having to go to her local bishop to have the ex-communication lifted. This was 15 years ago. Does she still need to do this?

  9. Scout says:

    Ed Peters appears to imply that priests have have the faculty to lift the sanction of the ‘crime’ of abortion since the 1983 CIC dropped the express limitation that only “ordinaries” could do it.

    He also makes the case that a pregnant woman is not automatically excommunicated for undergoing an abortion. [Several factors are weighed when considering if a censure was incurred, including state of mind, freedom, etc.]

    “The pope’s statement seems to assume that the sin of abortion and the crime of abortion are concomitant realities. I, however, and I’ll wager nearly all other experts, hold sin to be distinguishable from crime, and that this crime is rarely, if ever, committed by women (again, as opposed to abortionists).”

    https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/pope-francis-on-reconciliation-for-abortion/

  10. boxerpaws63 says:

    the media should just leave reporting on matter religious to people who actually understand matters religious. An anchor on Fox news reported that Pope Francis had changed Church doctrine.

  11. Imrahil says:

    Speaking in 1917 language, abortion is now an excommunicable offense nemini reservatum.

    These existed. I’m not even sure whether abortion was not one of them…

  12. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Worm-120
    “Where do you draw the line between being silent and concealing somebody’s sins, and respecting their privacy? Is there a point where you are obliged to reveal something told to you in confidence?”

    I read this as a person confiding in your an intent to have an abortion, as opposed to confiding the reality of a past abortion, and you then failing to testify that you can not condone their decision because you firmly believe their child is genuinely a living human being with the right to life.

    Which hopefully will not be all you say. I think it is worthwhile for every Catholic to know where the nearest Christian pregnancy aid center is so they can learn more about other options and the support and social services that are available to help.

    @ boxerpaws63
    “An anchor on Fox news reported that Pope Francis had changed Church doctrine.”

    Nothing new for the mainstream media. Smithsonian Magazine made the same claim when reporting on the recently issued update to Catholic funeral instructions which dealt with cremation and scattering ashes. Smithsonian isn’t even a breaking news outlet like Fox. They’re a monthly publication, yet they couldn’t be bothered to ask the local diocese for feedback on the article before publishing it.

  13. AnnTherese says:

    The “9 ways” of being guilty is interesting. When teaching, I’ve applied this idea to other sins. Could you please tell me your source for this? I’d like to read more.

  14. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Thanks for posting this one Padre.

    Those 9 ways of participating in the sin of another are copy and paste material – a handy quick reference to have.

    In reference to Dr. Peters’ opinion posted by Scout :

    “The pope’s statement seems to assume that the sin of abortion and the crime of abortion are concomitant realities. I, however, and I’ll wager nearly all other experts, hold sin to be distinguishable from crime, and that this crime is rarely, if ever, committed by women (again, as opposed to abortionists).”

    – I’m inclined to agree with Dr. Peters ; based on what more than several women who’ve had an abortion(s) have chosen to confide in me. Over 80% of the time (according to what I was told by them in retrospect), once the medical profession is consulted by a woman who did not expect to become pregnant and the topic of abortion is mentioned – they (medical professionals) will hard sell abortion to the point where the mother (and father) actually feel pressured into accepting the error of abortion . . . momentarily. The regret they feel after the abortion is something difficult to put into words . . . something which can sometimes be suppressed temporarily – only to resurface again and remind them of the truth.

    If anyone is having trouble believing that, try placing it within the context of what secular society has come to insist on as “reproductive rights“. Don’t we usually feel it our duty to vigorously inform people of their rights . . . ? only in this case, it is always a lie:

    “I can do what I want with my own body.” Dear mother, it isn’t your body, although you carry it and nourish and sustain him/her within you. Medical science says the DNA of your baby is different from yours ; and this difference – according to Dr. Jerome Lejeune – the father of modern genetics, and according to other true medical/scientific experts in this field, is evident from the moment of conception.

    Why Life Begins at Conception

    Abortion (apart from cases involving double principle) is always killing , always immoral, always evil, always a grave sin. Pope Francis doesn’t deny this. Another part of this truth is that abortion always claims more than one victim: The first defenseless one is mercilessly slain ; the second, critically wounded in her soul. I believe Pope Francis may be concentrating on this second victim’s wound, because without God’s forgiveness and without the repentant mother knowing that God can and will forgive her , the wound simply cannot be healed.

  15. joecct77 says:

    If Christ can forgive Peter, anyone and any sin can be forgiven.

    Does that make the priest the most powerful person on the planet? With a few words and a contrite heart by the penitent, the priest can save a soul from eternal damnation. No other person(s) can do that. Not Trump, not Obama, not Putin. Amazing.

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