Vatican Interview on the Pope’s Letter

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).


8 thoughts on “Vatican Interview on the Pope’s Letter

  1. Tim, Is one to understand from this excerpt that some American priests have exceeded their authority [in time] by granting the Eucharist to the “woman and all formal conspirators” without a formal remission of excommunication; And that sinners may be adding sacrilege to their list of offences? Certainly some, perhaps most Catholics would not know, having received absolution for sin in the confessional, (presuming absolution is permitted) they were in fact excommunicated unless they were directly told so. B.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________


  2. Can. 1398 says,

    “A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    The Latin terminology here basically means automatic and immediate, as soon as the act is committed. The excommunication also includes any accomplices (‘formal conspirators”).

    Generally, where priests have been given the authority to absolve from the sin of abortion, the excommunication is lifted as well. This is true for the priests in the US. The pope’s letter has little effect in our country. Following on your thought, though, one effect the letter should have is making people aware of the excommunication attached to the sin of abortion. But in order to be excommunicated, one does have to know that a particular sin is an excommunicable offense. Can. 1323 says,

    “No on is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept (I’m paraphrasing the rest)”:

    – is under the age of 16
    – is ignorant of law
    – acted under pressure
    – acted in grave fear
    – acted in self defense
    – lacked the use of reason


  3. No objections here. I was looking for validation of article.

    What could be added in your opinion?

    Do you agree on Martin Luther and Protestantism?



  4. I would agree that Martin Luther invented a theology, opposed to the moral teachings of the Gospel, that was meant to bring relief to his particular condition. Luther could find no peace in his good and pious works, including acts of reparation. Despairing of them due to the spiritual affliction of scrupulosity, he decided that good and pious works played no part in one’s salvation, that one is saved by faith alone, not by actions. This turned Christianity on its head, along with the whole program of reform in which God, over many centuries, was leading mankind upward to the moral heights of the Gospel. You can trace this progress through the various covenants, beginning with Adam, through to Abraham, then Moses, and to the heightened sense of righteousness described by the Old Testament prophets. Morality becomes increasingly purified and elevated, until it finally reaches the apex of all moral law in the New Law of the Gospel. Hence, the constant emphasis in Christ’s teaching is on morally upright and pure living, for the love of the thrice-holy God. Luther’s theology was the exact opposite of this, robbing salvation of its claim on behavior. Hence, under him, the liberty of the Gospel degenerates into libertinism.

    The inevitable fruit of such a theology is the moral laxity of modern Christianity, which has made its special mission the rehabilitation of extreme immorality. In other words, the rise and wide acceptance of contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, and homosexual behavior depended on Christians embracing them. Such certainly has happened, and Luther provided a theological foundation for it. Other influences are also at fault, but the Christian assistance was essential to the acceptance of behaviors that even nature abhors.

    I write this, not as an outsider, but as a man who once greatly admired Luther and read his writings. What first awakened me to Luther’s madness was the reading of a biography of him by a Protestant. His life story was nothing like the life of a saint; it was more like the life of a rude and arrogant radical. Sorry, but that was my sincere reaction to Luther the man. Once I knew him, I could never again admire him. And as I began to carefully compare his writings to the New Testament, I gradually realized his theology was the antithesis of true Gospel teaching. For example, the fundamental Lutheran and Protestant dogma is – again – salvation by faith alone, not by works (Sola Fide). But if this is really the case, then why do Christ and the New Testament writers constantly describe the Final Judgment as one of works? How can we be saved by faith alone if, in the end, we will be judged by our works? This makes no sense; it is a contradiction because the fundamental Lutheran/Protestant dogma is a gigantic error.


  5. Thank’s for taking the time to provide this insightful elaboration /response to my question on Luther/Protestantism. Very helpful.


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