This post is by special request from one of my readers.
A lot of information – and misinformation – has been going on about Pope Francis’ decision to continue giving individual priests the right to resolve someone from the sin of abortion without having to refer the issue to the Bishop. Let me explain what the situation is:
According to Canon law, bishops have the right to withhold forgiveness for certain sins to themselves. Usually the rationale for this would be to discourage people from committing the sin, knowing that forgiveness would require a communication with the Bishop and might make them second-think committing that sin. In some dioceses in the world the bishops have exercised this right concerning the sin of abortion and have withheld that permission from priests and retained it for themselves. That is not the case in almost all of the dioceses of the United States. Here in the Archdiocese of New York I have always had the right to forgive the sin of abortion in confession, so for us it’s a moot point. Last year during the year of grace, Pope Francis, in a gesture of mercy, exercised his authority to override the bishops and extended that right to all priests for one year. Apparently, he found the results of that favorable and has chosen to extend that privilege. The media coverage, however, has often failed to mention that most priests in the United States have had that right all along, and there were many people who had confessed abortion to a priest who were now wondering if in fact they had been forgiven. The answer is, yes you were! If the priest forgave you, it meant he had the right to do so. If he did not have the right he would’ve had to petition the Bishop for forgiveness for you, so don’t worry! If the priest forgave you, you were forgiven!
Another question I was asked was to comment on a response somebody had made saying that the priest’s forgiveness is only in the name of the church and not in the name of God, since no priest can forgive sins in the name of God. That is false. All one has to do is read John 20:22-23. The scene is the upper room where the Last Supper took place. The time is the evening of the resurrection. Jesus is appearing to the apostles for the first time on Easter night after his resurrection: “Then he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23) The priest does in fact have the authority to forgive sins in the name of God. Jesus gave the church and the priests that authority at his appearance to the apostles, the first priests. Notice that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was the first gift Jesus gave the church after his resurrection. Now that he had died to take away our sins he gave priests the authority to take them away in his name. So anyone who is trying to use the rationale that they don’t have to go to a priest for forgiveness because only God can forgive sins needs to reread the Gospel according to John. They are very much mistaken. In fact, anyone who has faithfully participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation knows the peace that comes from the moment and will understand why Jesus in fact gave that authority to men. Just last week I was hearing the confessions of our third through fifth grade children in our Religious Education program, and after we finished, while I was talking with the children in the hallway, one of the boys said to me “I feel so good now! I feel like a weight has been lifted off me!” The other children all agreed. I told them that was the proof that they had made a worthy confession. Jesus gave this sacrament to us through the ministry of priests because he knows how important it is for us to have a human being tell us we are forgiven and not merely assume that because we knelt in church and asked God to forgive us that we are forgiven. I have a previous blog on this issue that goes into this topic in further depth. If you’d like to read that information, please click the following link:5 fears about going to confession, and how to overcome them.
So do not be afraid! If a priest for gave you the sin of abortion you were forgiven, and do not be afraid to go to a priest. Christ is in fact forgiving you through the ministry of the priest.