Beginning December 8, 2015, women of the Catholic Church who have had an abortion and seek forgiveness, will get just that – it is a decision by Pope Francis that has since caused a lot of commotion.
In brief, The Holy Year or Jubilee Indulgence will last until November 20, 2016, and “may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed.”
It is unclear what the church plans to do after the Year of Mercy, thus the beginnings of why The Pope’s comments do little for the issue of abortion.
Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of information regarding women undergoing abortion procedures during the Year of Mercy. Does The Pope’s decision make room for women wanting the surgery during this year, or is the forgiving only limited to previous sinners? He does write, “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. 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.”
Perceive it how you will, but I believe The Pope plans on forgiving past and future “sinners” of abortion. That being said, the issue of crime vs. sin comes into play – canon lawyers believe women may confuse the two. Currently, abortion is legal in the United States, but there are several states (below) with trigger laws making abortion a near-total criminal ban.
Despite forgiveness from the Catholic Church, a few of these states can charge a woman for murder if she’s had an abortion after 20 weeks without a health exception. Confusing your church’s forgiveness and your state’s laws regarding abortion could eventually become problematic.
Another issue the Year of Mercy raises is the language used in conjunction with Catholic women who have had an abortion.
In a statement issued by Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH, she says, “These statements perpetuate the notion that a person who has ended a pregnancy must be ashamed, and contributes to culturally pervasive and deeply harmful abortion stigma. As an organization committed to Latina health and reproductive justice, we reject any attempt to impose judgment or shame on someone based on deeply personal decisions about health, pregnancy, and whether to become a parent. We’re glad to see a conversation about abortion happening within faith communities—but the focus should be on respect and support for those who end a pregnancy, not the same old politics of shame and stigma.”
Similarly, Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice writes, “Pope Francis’s decision to refocus the church’s energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women. The compassionate, pastoral approach is to recognize that women have abortions for many reasons. Neither the Pope nor any of us can fully understand a woman’s decision because we do not stand in her shoes. What a woman really needs from her clergy is someone ready and able to have deep pastoral conversations about her decision. The Pope should equip his priests with the tools to listen to a woman’s story instead of offering occasional absolution.”
While it is a nice idea upfront, women of the Catholic Church may be left (still) ashamed after all is said and done, especially when The Pope assumes women are pressured into abortion.
For many devout Catholics, being ex-communicated by the church could be one of the most devastating ordeals, so the Year of Mercy is a start nonetheless.
Feature image via Vatican Photo Gallery.