If you’ve glanced at today’s headlines, you might think some sort of dramatic shift has occurred in regard to the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion. After skimming the headlines myself, I almost expected to see a picture of Lena Dunham giving Pope Francis a high-five.
- Yahoo! New/AFP: “Pope tells priests to pardon women who have abortions”
- Esquire: “Pope Francis Takes a Leap on Abortion”
- CNN: “Pope Francis shook up the Catholic world – again.”
The media uproar was the result of a statement made by the pope earlier today in regard to the Church’s upcoming Jubilee year:
“I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness.”
The pope’s announcement went on to say that he was “aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision,” and that he knows many woman who have abortions believe “they have no other option.” He also referred to the decision to have an abortion as an “existential and moral ordeal.” So it certainly sounds like he’s trying to reach out to people on the other side of the abortion debate… in his own Pope-ish way.
But despite many years of Catholic schooling, I’m still the last person who should try to explain what this all means. Technically, I guess I’m not even a practicing Catholic. In fact, last night I used my iPad to commit a mortal sin.
So I decided to ask a real, honest-to-God bonafide priest to explain what the pope’s comments really mean. The short answer: not much.
For the long answer, read the Q&A below. At a few points, it starts to sound like a rule book for Magic: The Gathering, so I’ve added explanations in parentheses as need.
Couldn’t Catholic women who had abortions already be forgiven by the church?
Abortion is a “reserved sin.” In this country many priests have standing faculties to absolve this - I do. Probably in many countries absolution is reserved to the bishop, so it looks like the pope is giving temporary faculties to every priest. This likely changes very little in this country.
Before the announcement, were women who had abortions instantly excommunicated (kicked out of the church)?
Excommunication only factors in if a person knows that it is a penalty. In my experience, women don’t know that in this country since it’s not a Catholic country, so excommunication isn’t a factor for me.
Are all women who have had abortions now forgiven in the eyes of the church?
No. Contrition with firm purpose of amendment is required. (Basically, you have to actually be sorry, and promise not to do it again).
So basically, a few more priests can absolve abortion-related sins? Is this just a glorified PR stunt?
I think it makes legitimate sense for a lot of Catholic countries as a way of calling folks back. But for us (in the U.S.)? Yeah, maybe missing the mark. A question that I ask my bishop that pisses him off is WTF a “year of mercy” means? So the pope is finally putting some flesh to the bones.
Overall, what do you think of the announcement?
Seems like much ado about nothing. But it’s nice for the pope to be in the news for nice things.
What do you think of this pope? Do you like him?
Everybody likes a winner, so yes. And he has indicated that he has no interest in the stiff rules-mongering of Benny (Pope Benedict XVI), which makes me happy. He gives me some freedom to do what I need to do. Basically anything that pisses off the traditionalists I like.
In summation, beginning this December, a few more priests than normal are allowed to forgive abortion-related sins… for one year. Earth shattering.
The pope also made an announcement about magic, sin-forgiving church doors, but that’s for another article.
(Source: A random priest whose name I can’t print without getting him in trouble.)
Jason Mathews is Internetting way too hard. Follow him at @jasonmathews316.