Recently, Pope Francis made remarks that, “Priests can now forgive women who have had abortions” which readers from numerous news sites and media outlets have taken to mean that abortion, once an unforgivable sin, can now be forgiven by the clergy.
Don’t believe me? Here are some examples: from Buzzfeed, “Pope Francis Allows Priests to Forgive Women Who Have Had Abortions”
From the Wall Street Journal, “Pope to allow to make it easier for the Church to forgive women who have had abortions”
Just search online for anything relating to Pope Francis forgives abortion, and you too can see a torrent of more similarly titled headlines. The comments, too, from these articles are equally disheartening. So many are rejoicing in the seeming progressiveness of the Pope. They see forgiveness as acceptance. What is this telling us?
There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.I think it’s striking how we as a global culture have forgotten what forgiveness means and entails. Catechism 982 states very clearly that, “ There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.” Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.”
Pay close attention to that final line. A famous saint once said, “It is not that God tires of forgiving us, we tire of asking for forgiveness.” Now, I am definitely not wiser than any saint, but I do think we need to amend that. I would add, “Or we do not think we are capable of being forgiven.”
So often our worst enemy is ourselves, and that is precisely why Satan whispers in our ears, and bolsters our pride. It shuts us off from soul saving forgiveness. So too does the media portray the Church as this entity that offers condemnation without absolution from our sins. This is not the case.
Christ wants to forgive you. There is no sin that He did not die for. We grow to think that our human errors are grander than Christ’s sacrifice, and this is a lie. The media doesn’t help, either. What did the Pope say, then?
I cannot fault the media for not being Canonists. This is an issue of Canon law. While the Church has always believed that priests have the power to forgive sins, abortion (along with several other sins) are also crimes. It is this second aspect that not every priest has the power to remove. The Code of Canon law holds that you do not need a bishop or the Pope to outright declare one who has committed grave sin excommunicated. As humans, we have the power to excommunicate ourselves through our actions (this is called “latae sententiae” which is a bit of Latin meaning the sentence has already been passed). Through this, one generally did have to go to a Bishop to have that part removed, or to a priest given that faculty by a Bishop. Now Pope Francis has granted that to priests. That is the crux all of those articles are missing.
The Cross is greater than any stain of sin.To say that the Church now has the authority to forgive sins is ignorant and dangerous. It tells others that the Church is not, and has not, been in the interest of forgiving sins, which is just not true. If anything, it’s us that are in the business of sin. The media once again hopes to drag the Church down to their level in the much and the mire of human self gratitude, where forgiveness has no hope of being called upon. But while we have the power to separate ourselves from God, we too hold the power through a repentant heart and contrite spirit, to unify ourselves once again to God. The Cross is greater than any stain of sin.