(Vatican Radio) In a letter on the Indulgence for the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has extended a special concession for all priests, during the jubilee year, "to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness of it."
The new disposition concerning the forgiveness of the sin of abortion provoked a great deal of commentary in the press, and a great deal of confusion.
Fr. Robert Gahl, an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce), spoke with Christopher Wells to explain this merciful gesture of the Holy Father.
Listen to the Christopher Wells' full interview with Fr. Robert Gahl:
Not a change in Church doctrine
When asked if Pope Francis' September 1st statement had any effect on traditional Church teaching, Fr. Gahl said, "With this new concession, Pope Francis has reaffirmed traditional doctrine, practice, and law. He has not changed Church teaching; he has confirmed it. For the Church, abortion is both a sin and a crime. The Fifth Commandment prohibits taking innocent human life. Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law specifies that abortion is also a penal crime and that those who abort automatically incur the penalty of excommunication."
What Pope Francis' concesssion means, then, is that "he has extended the faculty or the authorization of all priests around the world to release people or to remit them or to release them from the penalty that is under law and also to absolve them from their sin. So this is an opportunity to appreciate during the Jubilee Year God's mercy which Pope Francis wants to affirm and it's also an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the Sacrament of Confession which puts us back into the grace of God", Fr. Gahl said.
Facilitating the process
Outside the Year of Mercy, the process for being absolved of the sin and reconciled for the crime of abortion is more complicated, with the penitent having to go to her/his local bishop for absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The reason why only the local bishops have the authority to give absolution for abortion, according to Fr. Gahl, is "in order to emphasize, to teach the gravity of abortion".
"What Pope Francis has done", he said, "is he's extended that authorization to all the priests starting December 8, 2015 until November 22, 2016, during the entirety of the Jubilee Year."
Pope of Mercy
Following Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict's emphasize on the mercy of God, Fr. Gahl said that Pope Francis "likes to frame [mercy] in terms of God's tenderness, that he comes like with a caress, in order to welcome the lost sheep back into the fold."
"Pope Francis", he said, "has asserted that God's mercy indicates his omnipotence. God is all-powerful; there is no sin that is so big that God cannot forgive it."
Fr. Gahl notes that it is no coincidence that Pope Francis extended the faculty to all priests to absolve the sin of abortion precisely on the same day (September 1st) on which the Church and the world celebrate Creation. "Pope Francis has emphasized that the foremost principle for true environmentalism is human ecology: that we should respect human beings from the very beginning of their lives, before they are born. So unborn children are part of nature and we should respect them, they were given to us by God."
Finally, Fr. Gahl said that, with this gesture, Pope Francis "is encouraging priests to be generous in dedicating time to this gracious and beautiful Sacrament of Confession whereby people touch Jesus in his sacred humanity and receive his forgiveness."
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