QUAERITUR: Penances in confession for the sin of abortion

From a priest:

I have been a priest for 7 years and in that time I have heard a few confession that involve women confessing abortion. I found that the women have been extremely repentant of their actions, to the point where one woman told me that she prays for the soul of her murdered child every day asking for forgiveness. My question is on the severity of the penance and finding the right balance. The women, to me, seem to have been harsher on themselves than I would ever dare to be – they simply need to know God’s mercy and forgiveness. Yet, at the same time I don’t want them to feel as if their sin is being trivialized by a light penance. Do you have any suggestions on the requisite balance?
Thank you for any assistance you can provide.

This is the sort of thing that priests would do well to talk about amongst themselves.  Still, I will use this opportunity to make a few points.

For something like this I tend to suggest a rather light penance.  There really isn’t anything we can assign or suggest that is proportioned to the sin.  Furthermore, I think it is important always to suggest to penitents something that can be done immediately following the confession, in a short period of time, and without any doubts about it being completed.  Keep it really simple.  I hesitate to try to make penances “meaningful”.

I don’t think that anyone making a confession of the procuring of an abortion, no matter what penance you suggest, is going to be swayed into thinking that it is trivial.  Everyone concerned with such a sin remains, in a real sense, torn up inside forever and never loses the memory of the pain.

I think it is far more important in a case like this that you repeat what all of us need to hear once in a while, no matter what our state in life or age is, no matter how many letters we have accrued after our names, namely, that a) there is no sin so great that we can commit that God cannot and will not forgive it, and that b) with absolution the sin is GONE, taken away, eradicated, washed clean from our soul.

It isn’t covered over, or set aside or overlooked.  It is no more.

We will have the memory of it to the day we die, and the burden of the pain, but we will no longer have the burden of the guilt, which has been cleansed from our souls through Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary.

I invite priests or bishops to drop me notes about this.  Perhaps I can post some of your observations.  I won’t open the combox.

In the meantime, everyone, remember: There is no sin so great that we little mortals can commit that God, who is almighty, cannot take from our souls forever.

If you, dear reader, have something really big weighing on you, and you haven’t confessed it, for the love of God – go to confession.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: From Fr. Z’s Blog: Penances in Confession for the Sin of Abortion | Deacon John's Space

  2. UDPATE 2039 GMT:

    A smart priest wrote with the reminder about the censure, the excommunication, attached to participating in the procuring of an abortion.

    Canon 1398 say that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

    Canon 1323 say that the following do not incur a sanction, those who are

    • not yet 16
    • unaware of a law
    • in error about it
    • forced
    • acting out of fear
    • without use of reason (except culpably).

    A woman or girl over 16 intimidated by an threatening boyfriend or parent would not incur an excommunication.

    In any case, in most places now priests have the faculty from the local bishop to absolve the censure incurred by abortion.  

    What some priests might not remember, however, is that there is a formula for absolving censures in the newer, Ordinary form.  The older, Extraordinary Form includes in the formula the absolution of censures as far as the priest is able and the person needs it.  The newer Form is here in the Ordo Paenitentiae which is from the Holy See’s Vatican Press.

    CLICK image for a bigger version.


    I am told that the formula in English is in the Rite of Penance book. FWIW.

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