Pope Francis declares a one-year moratorium on Hell for those who have had abortions

September 4, 2015 • 11:30 am

I’m not a Catholic, but it’s my understanding, reinforced by a new piece in PuffHo, that abortion, like homosexual acts, constitute a grave sin. In fact, it’s an even graver sin than being gay, for having an abortion leads to automatic excommunication for both those who undergo the abortion and those who perform it. And that means, unless certain designated or high church officials forgive you (these Official Forgivers include “bishops, missionaries or the chief confessors of a diocese”) you’re going to fry—or, according to more liberal theologians, just get “separated from god”.

I’m not quite sure how women who have not confessed an abortion to the proper officials are become excommunicated. I thought excommunication was a formal act of the Church, not of God, and that would require the Church to know who has sinned. But never mind that.  There are big doings.

For now the Reform Pontiff, Pope Francis, has temporarily lifted this punishment—but only for a year. According to PuffHo, during Holy Year every priest now has the ability to forgive women who have had abortions, de-excommunicating them and reinstating their chances of attaining Heaven.

Here’s the bit on abortion taken from the Vatican’s new bulletin (conveniently given in eight languages). The lifted penalties apply only to women who have had abortions, as those who perform the procedure aren’t mentioned:

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly 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. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. 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. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God 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. For this reason too, 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 for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

I suppose this is a step in the right direction, although the step will be reversed within a year. And that’s one big problem with this decision, for it makes no sense.  There are two other issues:

First, who gave the Pope the authority to determine God’s punishment of sinners? Was he speaking ex cathedra in this missive, and thus his pronouncement is, as Archie Bunker once said, “inflammable”? Did God tell Francis that He changed his mind, as implied above (“the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart”)? The language of the statement does not imply that the Pope’s is speaking as God’s mouthpiece, yet it marks a huge change in the post mortem fate of women who have had abortions.  What I don’t understand is how the Pope, speaking on his own, seems to have the ability to determine whether someone once doomed to Hell is now eligible for Heaven.

And that, more than anything else, shows that these stupid “rules” of Catholicism are not ordained by God, but are made by man. (And by “man”, I mean “males,” since that’s who runs the church.)

Second, why is this change only for one year—Holy Year?  Given the language above about God’s forgiveness for sinners, why is that forgiveness under time limits?  Why just a year instead of forever? Is this just a token move to eliminate the backlog of those who have been excommunicated, or have left the church—a move to make the Church look more progressive?

I would like to join the chorus of those who praise Francis for his modernity, but his reforms, clearly enacted under the joint pressures of changed secular morality and widespread egress from the Church, always have qualifications. Global warming is real, but it’s not due to population growth. Gays should be treated better, but homosexual acts remain a grave sin. Abortions can be forgiven by any garden-variety priest, but only for one year.

The qualifications clearly exemplify the cognitive dissonance of the Vatican. The Church knows it must reform if it is not to die, but if it changes too quickly, or too obviously, it risks violating its own ancient and long-standing dogmas in ways that will discomfit believers.

81 thoughts on “Pope Francis declares a one-year moratorium on Hell for those who have had abortions

  1. My nominal catholic friend says she asked God to speak up and let her know if He/She/It objected if she got an abortion. must have been ok because no message against her having one!

  2. I think the one year limit is a sort of try before you buy plan.

    After the first year this indulgence will be on sale at all fine catholic worship huts.

    Financing available on approved credit.

  3. I’m not sure he’s Reform Pontiff. He’s Soundbyte Pontiff.

    He hasn’t actually reformed anything, he’s just kind of trying to make his Church appear more palatable to liberals.

    In real terms it will make no difference at all to those women in need of an abortion who fall victim to laws passed to conform with Catholic Catechism.

    1. I made this comment I’ve at Friendly Arheist on this topic:

      “Nice try.

      These attempts at keeping up with morality are a lot like the attempts we made as children to make it look like we were eating our vegetables: pushing the food around, piling it up, making more empty plate space, anything but actually eating them.”

  4. I’m skeptical as well.
    Reminds me of when the library holds a 1 month amnesty for overdue books.
    How long, at this rate, until the church no longer exists? 100? 200 years?

  5. I’ve never liked this pope. As a teacher of supposedly God’s holy word, he’s worse than Ratzinger, because at least Ratzinger was honest enough to say what the catholic catechism actually says.

    More to the point: third party forgiveness is meaningless and morally twisted. If a woman has an abortion, neither God nor the Church are victimized. Such arrogance!

    1. To be clear, the Church is arrogant for ‘forgiving’ someone, even though the Church hasn’t been hurt in any way.

  6. Re “his reforms, clearly enacted under the joint pressures of changed secular morality”

    He’s also the first Jesuit pope. In some countries the Jesuits have a rep for being brainwashed fascists, but in other countries they are known as the vanguard of progressive thinking in the Catholic church.

    Re “if it changes too quickly, or too obviously, it risks violating its own ancient and long-standing dogmas in ways that will discomfit believers.”

    To some degree, this already happened at Vatican II in the 1960s. A set of small and modest reforms radically discomfited the most traditionalist Catholics. A major change was an almost 180 degree about-face regarding the church’s relationship to Protestant Christians, previously vilified by most Catholics. A major message that came through is that across-the-board change is possible AT ALL. If the church can change so drastically towards Protestants, it can change on abortion and birth control, etc.

    I don’t claim to understand Catholic theology (does anyone?) but I think the “power of the keys” is independent of the power to declare dogmas.

    (Although Eastern Orthodoxy prevailed in the Byzantine Empire rather than Roman Catholicism, it is certainly Catholic theology which is more “Byzantine” in the modern sense.)

  7. In a year’s time , when all these clerics have gathered this shameful information about their female flock, what will they do with it? It’s always handy for a large organization to know an individual’s weak points. x

  8. … not quite sure how women who have not confessed an abortion to the proper officials are become excommunicated.

    The religious equivalent of “self-deportation.”

  9. “And that’s one big problem with this decision, for it makes no sense.”

    I’m sure the Pope is gonna install a ginormous Countdown Clock on the steps of the Vatican.

  10. The Church would presumably find out about every Catholic abortion through the act of confession: Confess an abortion, get excommunicated and sent to Hell.

    Too bad about all those women who went to hell because they are now too dead to show their sincere penitence to a priest.

  11. Perhaps the gravest sin is attempted ordination of a woman. That will get you excommunicated even faster than the Church excommunicated people for helping a 9 year old rape victim pregnant with twins get an abortion. Will the “Cool Pope” have them re-enstated? Or was their saving the girl from certain injury and likely death uforgivable because it didn’t happen during this special promotional deal?

    (Murder, kidnapping, rape of children, etc., meanwhile, do not result in instant excommunication the way attempted ordination of a woman does.)

  12. I suppose this is a step in the right direction, although the step will be reversed within a year.

    Well, it is and it isn’t, I think. While it’s marginally better than outright condemnation for all eternity it’s actually a much more insidious move to solidify the Church and increase the roll call.

    It’s like telling gay people they can be Christian if they “repent” and agree to remain abstinent. Big whoopty-doo. The seeming concession is just another way to emphasize that something which isn’t immoral at all from a secular standpoint is really a SIN which is really really wrong. God can forgive abortion, God can forgive atheism, blah blah blah. We don’t need forgiveness: thanks for nothing.

    The one-year moratorium sounds to me like a marketing move. There are no doubt former Catholics who left the church because they had abortions yet wish they hadn’t had to. Now all of a sudden this relatively small number will come rushing back — Limited Time Offer Only!!! — and my but won’t it look good in the statistics? The endless drip-drip-drip of the receding roar of exodus from the One True And Catholic Church will temporarily splash upwards.

    And some people like to jump on a bandwagon (if I may mix my metaphors, which I may because I did and God did not stop me.)

    1. Careful with mixing metaphors. Next thing you know, you’ll be mixing fabrics, and we all know that’s just a small step away from boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.

      …say…anybody got a good recipe for lamb chops with a goat milk béchamel?


        1. At least that’s easier than separating the <insert stereotyped pastoral ethnicity — Greek, New Zealand, Irish, saxophone-playing, whatever /> shepherds from the sheep — for which, of course, one needs a crowbar….


          1. There’s a joke here when one wants to denigrate a particular area – “where men are men, and sheep are nervous.”

              1. New Zealand recently had a competition to come up with a new flag; many of the entries featured sheep, not all of which looked nervous. 😉

    2. I don’t think it is a marketing move in the business sense as even lapsed Catholics are always included in the flock numbers unless a Bishop formally removes them.

      I do think it’s a way of re-establishing authority over women. A woman who has had an abortion might well come to think of the RC Church as something that is not important in her life any more. Being ‘forgiven’ brings her back into the fold, accept the Churches authority once more, and perhaps she will have no more abortions.

      I do not welcome Mr Bergoglio’s ‘modern views’. I think they are the same old dogma repackaged into new glittery wrappings.

      1. Exactly. It has always been Church policy to forgive sins that are confessed. The Pope is using weasel words to make it seem like this might not have been the case. This is nothing more than a restatement of the same old con game dressed up in slightly fluffier than usual language.

      2. It might still be a business move in that its well known that the official ‘flock’ numbers don’t jibe with the number of actual butts sitting in the pews — which when you get right down to it is the number that matters. Empty churches = leaky roofs.

        In addition to establishing authority over women, I think Jesuit Bergoglio is also trying to sell the illusion that the Church is “modern” enough to appeal to the Western mindset. No fool, he must see some of the danger of relying on an increasingly less sophisticated, more superstitious membership. When the average, typical, mainstream Catholic is bowing down to Virgins appearing in water stains and burnt toast the argument regarding the primacy of the Church’s esteemed history of theological scholarship is toast.

        1. Don’t forget that the Church has always had that sort of a split personality…they’re the institution that founded some of the oldest universities, and paid for said universities with donations from parishioners seeking absolution from actions that are only crimes in the eyes of the superstitious.


  13. This has to tell the viewers of religion that religious beliefs and practices are coming apart. They continue to lose members and sudden, or rushed changes in dogma indicates a desperation.

    Percentages of non-affiliation continues to rise and the places to hide are fewer. Women can take only so much shit before they start heading for the door.

    One of the bad results of this is the believers left behind get more extreme all the time. That is why we have things like the woman in Kentucky. The pope is visiting soon and he wants to look cool and with it when he gets here. It is all image and empty suits or robes.

  14. I heard on the radio recently that the church does not excommunicate you for the crime of murder, but for abortion? Well, you are excommunicated.

  15. Maybe there is a hidden catch to it. You will be absolved of the sin of abortion but will have to say 2,137,256 Hail Marys.

  16. So, let’s imagine a sweet little old lady who died just last night. She was pressured into an abortion when she was old and foolish, but never confessed her sin because the Church was her whole life and she couldn’t bear the thought of excommunication and the scandal it would cause for her family. Had this announcement been made yesterday morning, she would have immediately called in a priest and confessed. As it is, however she died without ever confessing this terrible-to-Catholics sin…and is now roasting eternally in Hell.

    This is the ultimate expression of morality from an exemplar of compassion and love…how, exactly?


  17. > I thought excommunication was a formal act of the Church, not of God, and that would require the Church to know who has sinned.

    They differentiate between excommunication ipso facto (“by the act itself”) and excommunication latae sententiae, which is what you describe above. Ipso facto excommunication means that only your personal conscience guides you to refrain from the sacraments, and seek absolution.

    Historically, excommunication latae sententiae meant getting stripped of your social rights, a much graver punishment than the ipso facto version, and this is what we lay people think of know when hearing the word.

    A comprehensive overview can be found here (with maaany finer details, as comes unsurprisingly when dealing with a 2000 year old institution): http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=4487

  18. It’s all DAFT. Human daftness – confession by one human to another, alleged forgiveness or not by one human for another. Imagine the sheer nastiness of thinking up something like hell and eternal damnation? This is only made worse by the fact that some humans actually believe such nonsense. Then we have SIN ….dafter and dafter.

    Although catholic numbers may be declining in developed countries, I think that the numbers in Africa are actually increasing. Dafter still.

    SO much for the ‘sapiens’ aspect of Homo sapiens.

  19. Sastra has it right. It’s a special promo to get excommunicated women back into the fold. It may actually work in a few cases.

    As for their right to forgive “sins” they base it on John 20:22 – “Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” – spoken by the dead Yeshue to his disciples after his alleged resurrection and therefore (in their own minds) inherited by the RCC Inc executive committee, as they have “inherited” everything else they think important to running their business.

  20. As for the question of “Who gives the Pope the power?” That would be Jesus-who gave Peter the power ‘to bind or loosen the keys to heaven’ or something. Then apostolatic succession, etc.

    1. It bemuses me that the Catholic Church selected Peter, apparently the dimmest bulb among the disciples of Jesus, to be the one from whom the apostolic succession arose.

      Catholic beliefs that were authorized over centuries eventually became heresy. Catholic “sins” have changed radically over the centuries. I had a Catholic cousin who insisted on eating fish on Friday even after the church no longer required it, but was able to excuse her divorce as justifiable. Strain at a gnat, swallow a camel.

  21. Here we go again… Can we dump any more guilt on a woman or more like young girls than hell for an abortion? I find the obsession with forcing females to term with child when unwanted abhorrent. And if they are not forced by eliminating the option than they are guilted by being shown cute baby pictures, beating hearts, body parts and so on with the suggestion that they will suffer a long time over the loss of the child. What about the 50% of naturally aborted fetus? What about the happy children that will never be born because a woman was guilted, unable, or forced into full term under bad circumstances… Abortions are now much more difficult to get for the less able and uneducated thanks to the prehistoric vigilance of the pious creating so much more suffering. Oh wait her comes Pope Francis to the rescue with a one year moratorium on HELL! Thank you Jesus!

    1. Excellent comment.

      And, of course, if the Church really cared about reducing abortions rather than controlling people via guilt, they’d just approve the use of artificial contraception.

      1. Exactly, contraception would be an easy home run for the Pope (and church). Not only do I think the Popes offer isn’t a genuine effort to reduce suffering. I think it’s a way to deceptively appear to be forgiving and yet spread his dogma and remind the masses that abortion is a capital offense worthy of eternal torture.

        How about the young man that was just as responsible for the unwanted pregnancy that was aborted….Shouldn’t he be punished for the same torturous suffering eternity? what a bunch of bigoted misogyny. Do you know who I think can go to HEll ?

    1. I don’t think Catholic doctrine has ever distinguished, soul-wise, between the aborted and the miscarried — or between them and the stillborn and infants who die before being baptized. Back in the day, that meant “Limbo.” I don’t know where all those souls have been dispersed to now that Limbo’s not a thing anymore.

      Maybe instead of Opus Dei you should ask Jimmy Cliff. Last I heard he was still sitting there in Limbo.

      1. If I remember correctly, limbo was never doctrine, as opposed to dogma. If you get into a debate with a hard core Catholic it is important to know the difference between the two so as to not get sidetracked by not knowing the terminology. However, in objective reality, where everyone lives, the definitions are meant to provide an out into statements of certainty. You see, that wasn’t doctrine I was citing, that was dogma, so even if it’s wrong, it says nothing about the Truth with a capital ‘t’ that the Church provides. Fuck these people. I don’t often resort to that as an argument, but here it fits. They have no intention of playing by the rules of public discourse to begin with.

        1. I think you may have that backwards, Chris, in that Limbo was Catholic doctrine (i.e., teaching) but never “dogma” (i.e., part of the magisterium that the faithful are required to accept to maintain good standing in the Church). At least that’s the way I read the Vatican’s pronouncement on the topic (albeit that it is written, at least in English translation, in nearly impenetrable prose).

          I certainly don’t relish the thought of having that kind of argument either. 🙂

          1. Ah yes, I told you I likely had them confused. I prefer to lump them into one category-bullshit that they make up as they go along.

            As for impenetrable prose, you have that right. When I was in my doubting phase a few years ago, I tried to read the Pope’s Bicycle-Faith and Reason. If you think people like David Bentley Hart create word salads, just try to make it through that. I think I made it about 1/3 of the way through and gave up.

  22. The Vatican is a huge, non-democratic bureaucracy suffering a large moment of inertia and having a sometimes opaque system of checks-and-balances. Those who follow it closely look for minor changes in policy and subtle shifts in language as portents of much larger potential changes to come — the way Kremlinologist used to scan Pravada and Izvestia for subtle textual clues, used to note the seating assignments in Red Square during the Victory Day Parade, and used to keep tabs on which Politburo member had vacationed at which Commissar’s dacha; or the way seismologists track minor temblors and small movements along fault lines as potential signs of a tectonic shift.

    It may turn out that Francis will be Catholicism’s Gorbachev, who knows? I certainly have no trouble seeing Benedict as the Church’s Brezhnev.

  23. The Pope is talking out of his nether regions. This is literally saying nothing new. It has always been Church policy to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is another PR campaign, nothing more. It’s not a step in the right direction; official policy is still no birth control, no abortion, and sins as per centuries old doctrine are granted absolution. A fictitious reward granted to keep the flock subservient to the Vatican…

  24. Clearly nobody here is taken in by this opportunistic and cynical move. I wonder how many RCs really are. I forget how many of them, in the West at any rate, have either had abortions themselves or accept the procedure, but it is a fairly high proportion. In practice, therefore, such individuals refute the absurdity of labelling abortion as a ‘sin’. When will the penny drop about the rest of the farrago?

  25. Pew Research has just issued a massive new report on Catholics in the U.S. It is something worth looking at.


    Amongst its many findings, I find this most striking:

    “The new analysis shows that among all U.S. adults who were raised Catholic, fully half (52%) have left the church at some point in their lives. Of these, about one-in-five (11% of all adults who were raised Catholic) are “reverts” – people who left the church for a while and have since returned. The remainder (41% of everyone who was raised Catholic) have not returned to the faith.”

    The Catholic Church, amongst other things, is a business. It is suffering a severe erosion of its customer base. These customers do not like what the Church is selling and have no intention of resuming to buy from it. Perhaps the Pope’s action is an attempt to stanch the bleeding. I doubt that it will work. This is because the majority of Catholics disagree with the Vatican on many issues. For example, 66% of Catholics do not consider it a sin to use contraceptives.

  26. Bah! The Vatican will just tell us all that the Pope was wrong, like with the whole “atheists can go to heaven extravaganza”.

  27. (these Official Forgivers include “bishops, missionaries or the chief confessors of a diocese”)

    I’m a missionary for the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster (pbuhna). So I’m sure that I can indulge people needing forgiveness for this most heinous of sins.
    In strict theological compliance with our Creation story, I could only accept payment in rum (from which hangover, the world was born), or paper tokens which can be “indulged” to become rum.

  28. “to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”

    In other words, these immoral women have to grovel for the terrible thing they’ve done (and presumably promise never ever to do it again) in order to obtain forgiveness?

    As Hitch would say, Fuck that!


    1. Nice link. The page nicely condenses the argument against Pope Francis. I’m going to keep the link until my Catholic relatives start swooning over his next utterance.

  29. The church opooses contraception for the same reason that it opooses abortion.

    Can’t grow the flock if people aren’t breeding uncontrollably.

  30. Might as well make it a twofer and grant aborted fetuses entry to limbo. Just for a year though. The Pope doesn’t want to create incentives for abortion *sarcasm*. Maybe the Vatican can make up some lost cash by selling get-out-of-Hell free cards or Pope-on-a-Rope bath products.

    1. What about those carnival booths where the Pope would sit above a tank of water and be dunked by a well tossed fastball? A dollar a shot would help with solvency and there would be no shortage of takers. I, for one, would stand in a long line for the chance.

  31. Jerry:

    There is more than one “kind” of excommunication. The one kind happens automatically (and it is the one you are likely thinking of): no need for any primate to find out what you have done. The other kind happens formally.

    Until thirty years ago another distinction was made. In the first case, the sinner must be shunned by the whole of society. In the second case, the sinner is tolerated. (This distinction no longer applies.)

    I have always found these excommunications fascinating. Who gets excommunicated for what exactly? Communists were excommunicated by Pius XII in 1949 in “The Decree against Communism.” JP II declared the decree invalid in 1983. In one stroke, millions were excommunicated, and apparently “for no good reason” …

    P.S.: This is also where the expression Bell, Book & Candle comes from.

  32. P.P.S.: In my previous comment I forgot to finish my point. Catholic communists were excommunicated without compunction (all of them!). But, as I understand it, Catholic Nazi’s somehow didn’t make it on the list …

    1. Hitchens disagrees with you slightly, langtbab. One Catholic Nazi was excommunicated: Goebbels, for marrying the Protestant Magda.

      Good to know that they kept their standards.x

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