Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's mercy is bigger than our sins | Pope Francis & forgiveness for abortion

Like many, I was so excited by the news that came out today from Rome that Pope Francis has extended the faculty to absolve someone from the sin of abortion without the interim step of having to contact your local bishop.

As always, the media seems to have not fully understood what the Pope did and so there are some confusing or misstated notions out there. I wanted to write a brief post to clear up a few things:

ABORTION COULD ALWAYS BE FORGIVEN. I was watching ABC News tonight and the broadcaster said, the Pope's decree means that "abortion can now be forgiven." This gives the impression that somehow the Church held a prior position that abortion was unforgivable. The impression is that if you found yourself in the impossible situation of procuring an abortion, that was it, no more hope for a life with God. One strike, you're out.

This could not be further from the truth. Many women, or their spouses or partners, have often come to the Church to seek God's forgiveness for their actions. But, according to Canon Law, since an abortion also brought with it latae sententiae (= automatic) excommunication, the priest needed to consult with their Bishop to lift that excommunication. Another option would be in dioceses were certain priests have been given the faculty for this. Either way, it was a more complicated process and took a bit more time, but forgiveness was always available. 

Also, if you happened to know a Franciscan priest, the Order has had the privilege of absolving this sin directly for a very, very long time.

In fact, St. Pope John Paul II said this in his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, "The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision (to have an abortion), and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed...But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope...Give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation."

So, what is the meaning of Pope Francis' action? My opinion is that the Pope wants to encourage people to seek out God's mercy. In my own personal experience with this, I have encountered many women who feel as though their actions have permanently separated them from God; that their sin is too great; that they are beyond forgiveness. To hear the words that God offers them forgiveness bring about a healing that is powerful, that is lasting and that is transformative in people's lives.

I believe the Holy Father is taking this moment to make that transforming forgiveness more easily available to encourage the kind of healing that it brings about. In his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope said, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”

I think as we head into this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis hopes that we will all take that message to heart and be reconciled, forgiven, renewed, restored and transformed by this Sacrament of Mercy. God's mercy is always bigger than our sins. We are never outside of God's desire to unite us with Him once again.

- FT

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