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TO THOSE WHO WERE ROBBED OF LIFE: the unborn, the weak, the sick, the old, during the dark ages of madness, selfishness, lust and greed for which the last decades of the twentieth century are remembered….” C. Everett Koop, MD
Much has been made of the recent decision of Pope Francis to allow priests to absolve those involved in the grave sin of abortion. Catholics and non-Catholics alike who depend on the major media for what this means might misinterpret his letter. Many outlets are reporting that this decision leaves the possibility that the act of an aborting a child might no longer be a grave sin, or was not a grave sin in the first place. This is not the case.
Let me start with a quote from Pope Francis’s full letter as reprinted by The Catholic Herald UK.
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.
Forgiveness has always been available to those who have procured an abortion. The penitent had to confess the sin to a bishop or someone designated by the Church to absolve the penitent of a sin that incurred automatic excommunication from the Church.
There is no unforgivable sin in the Catholic Church for to state that a sin is unforgivable is to state that sin is greater than G-d.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the source that should be the starting point for those interested in what the Church believes and teaches.
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
Latae sententiae is a Latin phrase, meaning “sentence (already) passed,” used in the canon law of the Catholic Church. A latae sententiae penalty is one that follows ipso facto or automatically, by force of the law itself, when that law is contravened. The very act incurs excommunication.
The Church has not changed its position on abortion nor has the Church changed its position on absolving a grave sin for those that are truly repentant.