The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in loving kindness. (Psalm 145)
Today the non-religious news reports were intrigued with the announcement by Pope Francis that for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, about to begin this December, all priests are granted the proper "faculties" to forgive the sin of abortion to a woman who sincerely confesses this terrible tragedy. I would assume that it may also apply to any men who confess that they were involved in an abortion either directly by encouraging their wife/friend to procure an abortion or perhaps a male doctor who confesses such a heinous act. But, is this new? Hasn't God always forgiven serious sin in the sacrament of confession for the one who is truly sorry and repentant? Yes, of course.
The issue at heart is the automatic sentence of excommunication that is attached to this sin. In other words, by its very act the woman who willingly participates in an abortion while fully knowing the serious condition it creates, is automatically excommunicated from the Church. Too harsh?
The same sentence, for example, is laid upon a priest in regards to breaking the seal of confession. If he deliberately, with full knowledge, reveals the contents of a sacramental confession, under any circumstances, he is also automatically excommunicated. A very serious offense that can be lifted only by the Pope! What about priests under torture in war time who may be "forced" into revealing the contents of a sacramental confession? Stories of priests who have gone to their death rather than break the sacred seal are known.
However, in this case of abortion, normally only a Bishop can lift the ban of excommunication after the abortion is confessed. Bishops may normally designate certain priests in the Diocese who act in his name or he may also grant all priests that faculty. Yet, and Pope Francis states, that this decision to terminate a pregnancy is deeply stressful for many women. If it took place in their younger years, it may have been done out of great shame and fear, desperation, ignorance of its severity, force. Whatever the circumstances may have been, this statement by Pope Francis is sensitive to the truth of this terrible experience and an invitation for all to come and be reconciled with God and his Church.
But, forgiveness and mercy are not conditional. After the example of Jesus himself and with our full knowledge of the nature of God, who alone grants forgiveness for no human can forgive sin, all sin no matter how grave, can be forgiven to the person who sincerely repents. The matter of restitution for damage done by that sin is an additional matter of course. That is the purpose of a penance. To correct the wrong I have done and to accept responsibility for my sinful choice. Though acting in compassion, Jesus reminded the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8: 1-11), "Go and from now on do not sin anymore." Whenever forgiven, we are all called to a conversion of heart and life, not a deliberate repeat of this sin. Yet, our struggle to do good is certainly noted by God.
In the end, this whole matter certainly supports consistently, and with great inspiration, the position of the Church on the dignity of every human person. It supports protection for the innocent who are directly attacked by the act of abortion.
Pope Francis, in his letter reminding us of the upcoming Jubilee Year, spoke of mercy with great compassion for those who have sinned, and who hasn't? In regards to the sin of abortion he writes:
"A serious problem of our time if the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life . . . I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision . . ."
He assured of forgiveness: "God's forgiveness cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father."
To the right above, on the adorable picture of the child, click for more information on this unique and merciful gift to all who will come to receive God's merciful love.