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Priests in the U.S. previously granted authority to absolve sin of abortion

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Catholic News Service

 

Pope Francis’ Sept. 1 announcement that priests worldwide will be able to absolve women for the sin of abortion will have little effect on pastoral practices in the United States and Canada, where most priests already have such authority in the sacrament of reconciliation.

“It is my understanding that the faculty for the priest to lift the ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication for abortion is almost universally granted in North America,” said Don Clemmer, interim director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Latae sententiae” is a Latin term in canon law that means excommunication for certain crimes, including involvement in abortion, is automatic. Clemmer said it is “the fiat of the local bishop” whether to allow the priests in his diocese to absolve those sins and most bishops granted such permission when giving priests faculties to minister in their local church, including Bishop Malooly for confessors in the Diocese of Wilmington.

A priest blesses a woman as he hears confession during a 2013 outdoor Mass in Madrid. (CNS photo/Emilio Naranjo, EPA)
A priest blesses a woman as he hears confession during a 2013 outdoor Mass in Madrid. (CNS photo/Emilio Naranjo, EPA)

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, confirmed that in a Sept. 1 statement welcoming what he called the pope’s “wonderful gesture.”

“What it does do is make access to sacramental forgiveness easier for anyone who seeks it with a truly penitent heart,” he said.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said his “hope and prayer is that all those carrying the burden of an experience of abortion would turn to the church and her sacraments and experience the Lord’s mercy and love.”

He directed all those involved with an abortion, “wherever a person might be in their healing journey,” to look into the resources offered by Project Rachel or a similar post-abortion healing ministry in their dioceses. Contact information for most dioceses is available at www.hopeafterabortion.com (in Spanish at www.esperanzaposaborto.com) or through the national toll-free number, 888-456-HOPE.

Mary E. McClusky, assistant director of Project Rachel ministry development in the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said it has been frustrating for her to see reports about Pope Francis’ action in the secular media that perpetuate “the false notion that the church excommunicates anyone” who has an abortion.

“They are making it sound like something new,” she said, “but the church has welcomed all sinners since the time of Jesus. … It is at the heart of what it means to be a priest to extend that forgiveness.”

In addition to the sacrament of reconciliation, the U.S. church offers through Project Rachel “a confidential and safe place for women and men, for anyone who suffers from involvement with abortion, to tell their story, have someone listen and be relieved of all the emotional, spiritual and psychological pain they are experiencing from abortion,” McClusky said.