Pope Francis: Abortions Can Be Forgiven By Priests

by Meredith Bland
Image via Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis extends abortion-forgiveness edict

Pope Francis has extended the power of priests to forgive abortions, which are still considered a sin worthy of excommunication in the Catholic church.

This past year was a Jubilee Year of Mercy for Catholics, which was meant to allow church members, as Pope Francis put it, “rediscover the youthful, beautiful face of the church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission.” Holy Doors were put in place in churches and dioceses around the world, and once a person passed through them they received a “plenary indulgence,” which removes all temporal punishment for any sin committed up to that moment. This Year of Mercy ended on Sunday…which is weird because a) mercy needed its own year and b) there is an end to it…but in an apostolic letter released today, Pope Francis said that all priests and bishops can continue to forgive abortions.

According to CNN, the Pope explained his reasoning in the letter as follows: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state 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 the Father…May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation…I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.”

Since he was elected by papal conclave in 2013, Pope Francis has worked to make the church more welcoming, loving, and forgiving — a much-needed change from the hell, damnation, and lack of forgiveness that some still associate with it. As he said last year, “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented.” Pope Francis has made clear that he wishes to bring more people into the church by broadening its reach to those who have felt shut out by it in the past. For example, he caused an uproar not long after becoming Pope when he said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” This acceptance (or backhanded tolerance, depending on your standpoint) of gay people was shocking to those hard-liners who still believe…in 2016…that homosexuality is a sin.

And while indefinitely extending forgiveness for abortions is a wonderful move, it really should be considered a wonderful move for a pope — for many women, the idea that we require forgiveness for an abortion in the first place is offensive. Let’s appreciate what Pope Francis has done, but let’s not get too crazy about it. Saying that women should be forgiven for abortions is like saying it’s not your friend’s fault that she has an ugly baby. It’s one of those “Thanks…wait, what?” statements.

As Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, the executive director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, puts it: “While we’re heartened to see the Church discussing abortion so openly, these comments continue to fall short in reflecting the realities of women’s lives, and the viewpoints of many Catholics…In 2016, it’s far past time for faith leaders to get back in touch with their base and focus on respect and support for those who end a pregnancy, not the same old politics of shame and stigma.”

Making abortion a forgivable sin is a step forward for the Catholic church, but it’s only a small step. Catholics, or at least those who expect full equality for women in their religion, will continue to demand more.