Saturday, September 5, 2015

Absolution, excommunication, and abortion

Photo credit: Giampiero Sposito/Reuters.
Welcome to another edition of What Did the Pope Really Say? Today’s confusion is over Pope Francis’ recent letter to the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Abp. Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella. Specifically, what did the Pope command to be done about abortion for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy year that is not already being done in parishes throughout the world? Did the Pope declare abortion to not be a sin? Were women unable to be absolved of the sin before? What gives?

In this case, the normal amount of mainstream-media misinformation is compounded by what Edward Peters calls “the pervasive ignorance of canon law among rank-and-file faithful brought about by fifty years of ecclesiastical antinomianism.”[*] Abortion is not only a sin in traditional Christian moral doctrine; in the Code of Canon Law it’s also a delict, analogous to a tort in civil law, with a defined punishment. Per Canon 1398, “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”[†]

The confusing part of Pope Francis’ letter is his stated 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.” Boston archbishop Cdl. Se├ín O’Malley reinforces the bewilderment when he tells us, “Under the provisions of canon law, absolution of certain serious sins, including abortion, was reserved to the diocesan bishop. For many years in the United States, including in the Archdiocese of Boston, diocesan bishops have granted their priests the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion.” [Bold type mine.—ASL] In all fairness, canon law is a recondite subject, and neither Francis nor Cdl. O’Malley were educated as canon lawyers.