September 2, 2015 7 Comments
Interesting news story yesterday about Pope Francis and abortion. Having actually spent time among real people and the the problems they face, Pope Francis is going easy– relatively speaking– on those who have had abortions.
Pope Francis shook up the Catholic world — again — on Tuesday by announcing that all priests around the world will be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” during the church’s “Year of Mercy.”
Traditionally, Catholics knowingly involved in the procurement of abortion, condemned as a “moral evil” by the church, are automatically excommunicated and may be forgiven only with permission from a bishop.
I certainly like the tone he strikes:
The Pope’s new policy, which does not change church doctrine, technically applies only to the Year of Mercy, a centuries-old Catholic practice during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins.
“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” Francis said in a statement Tuesday. “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,” the Pope continued. “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.”
So, I was surprised to learn this significant lacuna in my knowledge of Catholic theology. I had not realized that there had been sins for which only a bishop could offer absolution. I find that more than a little absurd, honestly. But what I find really absurd is that this list of sins for “automatic excommunication” includes abortion, but not murder. Burn a family, strangle a baby, throw a toddler against a wall, molest, torture, and murder a child and you are not automatically excommunicated and any old priest can offer you absolution. But have an abortion– even under dire personal circumstances (e.g., extreme poverty, unwilling father of the child, etc.)– and morally speaking, the Catholic Church somehow think you are worse than a serial killer.
[And I don’t even want to address the moral silliness of the idea that this year only, a priest can absolve you, but next year, this sin is going to require a Bishop’s absolution again. Seriously?! There’s a reason indulgences make the Catholic Church a laughing stock.]
I did not find this explanation on-line, but the NPR story I heard today said that the sin was worse because the unborn child was the most defenseless. As if an infant can really protect itself! Please. Much less an 10-year old against an adult. But somehow, absolutely devastate a family, neighborhood, and community by murdering a 10-year old (and yes, that’s what happens, widespread devastation) and this is somehow a worse sin that taking the life of the unborn fetus potentially known only to the mother?!! Yes, all life may be sacred, but when a beloved mother of five or a young child with all the world ahead of her is prematurely snuffed out, the harm to other humans and society is exponentially greater? How can anyone possibly argue that abortion is somehow worse? All I can suggest is that this really a political position, more than a theological one. Maybe a theologian out there can enlighten me, but this strikes me as awfully similar to the fact that the church rails against abortion (which is politically safe for it), but essentially never raises a peep about the equally intrinsic evil (following church doctrine, that is) of destroying unused embryos from IVF (parents desperately trying to have children are pretty damn sympathetic).
I’m actually quite comfortable with the Catholic Church considering abortion to be a very serious moral sin. What I hate is bending theology and morality beyond any reasonable interpretation to suggest that abortion is somehow far worse than all these things any sentient person knows to be otherwise the case. [Or placing it as the sine qua non of Catholic belief and practice, for that matter. Jesus seemed much more concerned with the poor and oppressed.]