Pope Francis has extended to priests worldwide the authority to offer absolution for the sin of abortion during the Catholic Church’s “Holy Year of Mercy,” which begins Dec. 8 and runs through Nov. 20 of next year.
Most priests in the United States already have such authority, but in other nations they must seek permission from bishops, a formal process that has led to frustration among those seeking absolution. Under Roman Catholic canon law, abortion brings automatic excommunication unless the person who has had an abortion or performed an abortion confesses and receives absolution.
Southern Baptist women’s ministry leaders Kathy Ferguson Litton, Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley, in comments to Baptist Press, however, lamented the misguided nature of the pope’s decree that forgiveness must be sought from anyone but Christ.
The New York Times noted that Pope John Paul II enabled priests to offer the same absolution during the last Holy Year, in 2000. “Yet it shows [Pope Francis’] broader push to make Catholicism more merciful and welcoming,” The Times noted. Vatican officials said it’s possible the pope will allow the abortion absolution practice to continue indefinitely.
“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision,” the pope said of abortion in a statement issued by the Vatican. This is one of two social initiatives by the pope in recent days, with the other being a fast-tracking of marriage annulments, streamlining the process to make it more accessible to those who otherwise might have drifted from the church after a divorce rather than seek an annulment.
Litton, a North American Mission Board national consultant for ministry to pastor’s wives, told BP, “As much as I admire the Catholic Church’s vigorous pro-life teaching, this move by Pope Francis is disconnected from a biblical Gospel. … The Bible never teaches us to look to man or any officer of the church to dispense grace. We are reconciled to God by grace through Jesus Christ when He became sin for us.”
Many women of Litton’s Baby Boomer generation, Litton said, have had an abortion — given that abortion rates were highest in the 1970s through the early ’80s.
“The emotional and spiritual fallout of those choices often came later,” she said. “I have watched treasured friends unpack this painful choice in a variety of ways. Some began to uncover their often deeply held story. When they sought spiritual and emotional healing, they often emerged to help others.
“The grace of the Gospel freed them to dip out of this past choice and allow God to redeem their sin,” Litton said. “They moved forward dispensing grace, truth and love. Many became notable leaders in creating abortion ministries. Most became vibrant portals of grace to abortive women and girls. Ironically, God has powerfully used these women to impact the abortive practices in the U.S.” contributing to a decline in the number of abortions in recent years.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press