Pope extends permission on abortion forgiveness

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Frances D’Emilio

Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is allowing all priests to absolve the faithful of the “grave sin” of abortion, extending indefinitely the special permission he had granted for the duration of the just-ended Holy Year of Mercy.

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Francis wrote in the Apostolic Letter made public by the Vatican on Monday that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled” with God.

But he also wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.”

Because the Roman Catholic Church holds abortion to be such a serious sin, it was long a matter for a bishop who could either hear the woman’s confession himself or delegate that to a priest who was expert in such situations.

But in 2015, Francis allowed all rank-and-file priests for the duration of the Holy Year to grant absolution for an abortion. The Holy Year, which began on Dec. 8, 2015, ended on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, the day he signed the letter.

The Rev. Tom Lalor, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church, declined to comment, adding, “I just follow the Holy Father.”

The Rev. Malcolm O’Leary, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church referred any question for a comment to the Diocese of Jackson.

Maureen Smith, spokesperson for the Diocese of Jackson, said priests in the diocese have had the authority to give absolution for abortion for many years, adding the pope’s announcement reinforces the diocese’s actions

“What has changed is that the Pope is saying, now this is something where if it weren’t allowed prior to this, he would say, ‘We need to keep doing it,’ but here in this diocese, we have been doing it.

“But you can’t just walk in and say, ‘I had an abortion, I’m sorry,’” she said. “You do have to in your heart be sorry.”

She said the pope’s view of mercy “is one that we all need to embrace that idea that we are all sinners and so if someone comes and is truly repentant for their sins, that’s what God is here for — to welcome the sinners back.”

By permitting all priests to absolve the sin of abortion, Francis was further applying his vision of a merciful church. Last year, he wrote that some women who had abortions felt they had no choice but to make “this agonizing and painful decision.”

“May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation” after abortion, Francis said in his latest letter.

A top Holy See official, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, told a news conference at the Vatican on Monday that the pope’s words applied also to those who were involved in an abortion.

“The sin of abortion is technically an expression that includes all the people who are involved in an abortion,” Fisichella said in response to a question from The Associated Press. “Thus from the women to the nurse to the doctor and whoever supports this procedure.”

Fisichella added: “The sin of abortion is inclusive. Thus forgiveness for the sin of abortion is all-inclusive and extends to all those who are participants in this sin.”

In his Apostolic Letter, Francis explained his rationale: “Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.”

During the recent U.S. presidential election campaign, some pastors urged their congregations to keep the “sacredness in life” — seen as a reference to abortion — in mind when deciding which candidate would get their vote.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump voiced his opposition to abortion while campaigning, while his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, supported women’s right to have an abortion.

—John Surratt contributed to this story.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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