Pope extends ruling that allows priests to forgive abortions
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
— Pope Francis on Monday extended indefinitely a provision that allows any Catholic priest to forgive abortions, while he reiterated that the church considers the practice a “grievous sin.”
The action makes permanent a change Francis announced last year that made it easier for Catholics to obtain forgiveness for abortion during the Holy Year of Mercy, which ended Sunday.
Priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have had the authority for more than 20 years to absolve abortion, said the archdiocese’s vicar general, the Rev. John Daniel, in a written statement issued Monday.
“This has provided many in the Archdiocese with an opportunity to heal and experience God’s forgiveness without any delay,” Daniel said. “May this action of Pope Francis provide a path forward for those who are struggling with finding healing and forgiveness.”
The Rev. Stephen Imbarrato, a priest in the archdiocese and an anti-abortion activist, said priests in the United States and much of the developed world have had the authority for decades to forgive abortions.
“In the United States, priests have had the power to absolve the sin of abortion, and lift any excommunication attached to that sin, since the 1970s,” Imbarrato said Monday.
Abortions became increasingly common in the U.S. after the 1973 landmark U.S.
Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, “so bishops extended their authority to absolve abortions to priests in the confessional,” he said.
The pope’s announcement will have the biggest impact in nations where bishops have not given priests the authority to absolve abortions, Imbarrato said.
“Now you don’t need the permission of the bishop anywhere in the world to forgive an abortion,” he said. “You have it through the authority of the pope.”
Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Letter that the church considers abortion “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,” Francis wrote.
The pope intended the letter as a message to Catholics that they can seek mercy through the church, Catholic leaders said.
“Pope Francis, with this letter is reminding us that we have a loving and forgiving God, that wishes us to walk close to him,” Daniel wrote.
Imbarrato said the pope’s letter is intended to encourage Catholics to seek forgiveness from the church.
“The pope, making this announcement now, sends the message out to people that abortion is a forgivable sin and that everybody should seek Christ’s mercy,” he said.
Pope Francis waves to the crowd during the canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II at the Vatican in April 2014.