- Vatican Radio
- Crux - Pope extends olive branches on abortion, traditionalist dissent
- Crux - Reflections on a daring double play by the ‘Pope of Mercy’
"Meanwhile, this morning saw another bolt from the blue with the release of a papal letter detailing some initiatives for the coming extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, which Francis will open on 8 December – the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's close – as a time to reiterate that, as he put it earlier this year, "the church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one."
Though the initiative's full programmatic impact is only expected to emerge after next month's climactic Synod on the Family as the Pope decides on the gathering's proposals for fine-tuning the pastoral care of the faithful in challenging situations vis á vis church teaching, today's missive – addressed to the observance's lead coordinator, Archbishop Rino Fisichella – immediately sparked misleading headlines on the perennial third-rail of the church's response to abortion given Francis' decision "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."
Yet again underscoring the centrality of the Confessional in his spirituality – and his ceaseless urging of everyone (himself included) toward it – Francis wrote that "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."
To be sure, the text doesn't mention the canonical penalties attached to the procuring of an abortion, but – much like the recently-announced, yet still to be constituted CDF tribunal for abuse of office by bishops – is likely to be backed up with juridical guidelines in due course. As implications go, the move as understood would merely extend on a universal level what's long been standard practice across North America (albeit not in Europe): namely, that while the lifting of the latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication for a woman who obtains an abortion and those directly involved in the procedure is reserved in canon law to the bishop of the place to underscore the severity of the act, the faculty to release from the penalty over and above the sin itself is already delegated on a "blanket" basis to practically every priest hearing confessions in the US and Canada (and likely well beyond) and has been for decades.
In other words, the much-touted "shift" is something long in place across much of the Catholic world, and is only being extended to wherever it doesn't already exist by simple fiat of the local bishop
On another front, some coverage has erroneously indicated that the excommunication for abortion will no longer be in force – a move that, in the theoretical sense, would be fully within Francis' purview to enact as the church's supreme legislator. At least as things stand, though, no dice there, either – to abolish the penalty would require a formal decree from him to abrogate (i.e. remove) Canon 1398 from the Code.
As an important qualifier to all this, it bears emphatic reminding that for a latae sententiae excommunication on any grounds to take effect, the person committing the act must be fully cognizant of its legal consequences. Yet as Francis himself explained today, that's often, even usually, not the case: "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," he wrote. "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."
For those of a nerdy disposition - canonist Ed Peters - Pope Francis on reconciliation for abortion