By Kathryn Jean Lopez
Editor’s note. Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This appeared Tuesday at nationalreview.com and is reprinted with permission.
This is a heartbreakingly misleading headline: “Pope to allow priests to forgive abortion.” You could go to St. Francis Assisi by Penn Station or St. Agnes by Grand Central in New York and throughout the United States yesterday, today, or tomorrow, and be forgiven for this or other sins you are sorry for.
This is the letter from Pope Francis it is referencing.
As Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., associate professor of systematic theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., explains over email this morning:
Since the first century, the Church has always taught that procured abortion is a serious sin. It is the purposeful destruction of the life of a new human being.
Often those who participate in an abortion are left with a sense of deep misgiving, or perhaps just with confusion and lingering anxiety. Some are seemingly unaware of the gravity of what has occurred. In the upcoming year of Mercy, Pope Francis is underscoring a traditional pastoral teaching of the Church: In fact it is important to try to face squarely the truth about abortion and to confide one’s self unconditionally to the mercy of God. God is willing to forgive this sin, if we are willing to ask for forgiveness. According to Catholic theology, the sacrament of confession confers the grace of forgiveness, reconciling the penitent with God. It confers a grace that helps to heal wounds of our human heart, allowing a person to accept themselves, and to live with God peacefully in the truth. Priests in the United States have delegation from their bishops to absolve this sin in confession. Confession is not an experience of being judged, but of being forgiven and of encountering the face of Christ, who is always merciful.
Abortion, forgiveness, and the Catholic Church has been a matter of tremendous confusion in recent years. Erroneous news reports of one-time only opportunities for sacramental pardon must be like salt on open wounds for those who have suffered so much already.
In my syndicated column this week, I repeat some of the words of Pope John Paul II in his “Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae) to women who have had abortions. He begged them to know God’s forgiveness.
And so, too, today, Pope Francis writes:
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.
Pope Francis is like a broken record pleading with people to know God’s mercy. He goes to Confession in the view of cameras and leads with his own identity as a sinner, loved by a merciful Father. He wants others to experience this. Even with misunderstandings, thanks be to God forgiveness is in the news on the day another Center for Medical Progress video is released showing a window into the organ sales of aborted babies within the abortion industry. What a dark reality but what a grace light is.