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.