Mercy for the sin of abortion

On September 9 the Holy See released on the Vatican website a letter from Pope Francis to Archbishop Rino Fisichella in which the Holy Father outlined some aspects of the observance of the upcoming Year of Mercy, which will commence on December 8 (the feast of the Immaculate Conception). Among the things which caught the attention of the world media in that letter was the faculty which the pope gave to every Catholic priest in the world to forgive those involved in an abortion (the ability to lift an excommunication tied to an abortion was previously limited to those priests who had received this power from their bishop — in the Fall River Diocese, the bishops have long delegated that power to all the priests with faculties to serve in this diocese).

In making this delegation, the pope was not minimizing the evil of abortion. He began this part of the letter by noting, “One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails.”

This superficiality can be seen in performers such as Comedy Central star Natasha Leggero, who tweets that she is “no longer performing in states where abortion isn’t legal” (which shows her legal lack of knowledge, since it is legal in all 50 states), sings in a “comedy” video about having multiple abortions, and teased Justin Beiber to his face that the reason he dances as he does is because he had to dodge a coat-hanger trying to abort him when in his mother’s womb (that did not really happen).

In a much less crass context, but with a similar viewpoint, National Catholic Reporter books editor Jamie L. Manson wrote a column on September 11 entitled, “Two important essays on the pope and absolution for abortion,” in which she recommends columns on Cosmopolitan’s website and in The New York Times, which take the pope to task for considering abortion sinful.

Manson said that instead of praising the pope’s supposedly merciful action (we at The Anchor do believe it was merciful, but Manson has her doubts), we should “consider the psychological and Spiritual harm that may be provoked by this ostensible act of mercy.” She quoted Karen Barbato, who wrote for Cosmopolitan, “That’s the thing about Francis’s forgiveness. It may sound nice, but there are strings attached. In order to truly repent and be let back into the Catholic Church, women must admit that they’ve committed a grave sin — a murder.”

The three writers (from the NCR, NYT and Cosmo) claim that the guilt people involved in an abortion feel comes not from the act itself but from the judgments of other people. Jill Filipovic in the Times wrote that “women primarily feel guilty when they experience stigma and a lack of support for their choice. In telling women that they can be forgiven during this one year, the pope plays on the ambivalence and embarrassment that can come from silence around abortion.”

Part of the complaint about Pope Francis’ approach is that he is supposedly not listening to women, although in his letter he does speak about his pastoral experience listening to people involved in abortions. He wrote, “Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”

The pope also reminded priest confessors in the letter about the attitude that they should have when dealing with people coming to confess abortion. “May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father Who renews all with His presence.”

As Deacon Gallerizzo says on page eight, we cannot ignore reality just because people don’t like it. The fetus in the womb is a human being. Abortion is the killing of this unborn child. Pope Francis reminds us that people often feel as if this is what they “have to do” (for whatever reason). Christ came to this world to bring His mercy, but part of His doing this was helping people to recognize their sins, so that they could repent of them. He did this not to “guilt-trip” them, but so that after repenting, they could leave this guilt behind and walk in newness of life.

The pro-abortion movie out right now, “Grandma,” does acknowledge (maybe accidentally, since this line does not fit the paradigm that the three columnists mention above share) that abortion itself causes sadness. The Lily Tomlin grandmother character (who goes around raising money to pay for her granddaughter’s abortion of a great-grandchild) says to the granddaughter, “If you don’t cry about this, what the hell are you gonna cry about?”

May our tears lead to compassion which helps people to avoid this situation in the first place or, if too late, to help them encounter Christ’s merciful forgiveness.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts