Vatican Radio, responding to the confusion over Pope Francis’ recent letter on the Year of Mercy, abortion, and confession, has posted an interview between Christopher Wells and Fr. Robert Gahl, associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce). The following are some important excerpts.
Has the Pope Changed Church Doctrine on Abortion?
“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. And 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. This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.”
What are the Effects of the Year of Mercy?
“What the pope has done with this letter of September 1 is, he’s extended the faculty or the authorization of all priests around the world to release people, or to remit them, or to lift that penalty – release them from the penalty – that’s under law, and also to absolve them from their sin.”
And Outside the Year of Mercy?
“Generally, Church law, in order to emphasize, to teach the gravity of abortion, specifies that only local diocesan bishops have the authority to lift the penalty from this crime, and therefore allow people to come back to the sacraments after having committed the crime of abortion. What Pope Francis has done is, he’s extended that authorization to all the priests, starting next December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016 – so during the entirety of the Jubilee year.”
“It should be taken into account that, nonetheless, already many bishops have, with their own authority, delegated this responsibility to the priests in the diocese, especially in the west. For instance, in England and Wales and most of the United States, most of the bishops have given this authorization already to the priests in their dioceses. So there’s no need to wait until December 8. Certainly, if anyone is carrying this burden of having participated in an abortion, they should immediately, as soon as possible, go to their closest priest and seek the forgiveness. This is what Pope Francis intends for the Church.”
There Is No Reason to Wait
“Moreover, Pope Francis has asserted that God’s mercy indicates His omnipotence. God is all-powerful; there’s no sin that is so big that God cannot forgive it.”
“So one ought not to delay. This is the most important thing.”
“Through this concession, this letter of yesterday, Pope Francis is really teaching the gravity of abortion and the beauty of forgiveness and of the sacrament of confession.”
“This doesn’t establish a change in Church teaching. The gravity, in fact, of the crime of abortion is sin, is reaffirmed by Pope Francis. And at the same time, he’s extending God’s mercy to all people. So it’s a gesture, a powerful gesture, of welcoming.”
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19).
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18).