The Pope, once again, has moved in the opposite direction of the Republican mainstream, declaring that, as part of the Church’s jubilee year of mercy (8 December to 20 November 2016), women who have had abortions should be granted forgiveness: “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” he wrote in a letter released today by the Vatican. The woman seeking forgiveness must express regret and contrition for the abortion.
The Pope explained that “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.” He went on to observe that,
“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.”
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. 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 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 fulfil 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.
The Vatican clarified in a subsequent statement that the Church does not “condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects.”
This is, as Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein write at The Washington Post, a “temporary ‘mercy’ window.” In fact, as some will no doubt note, this is far from an open-minded attitude toward women’s reproductive rights.
As The Atlantic tweeted,
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) September 1, 2015
Nevertheless, it is still by an order of magnitude superior to the Republican Party’s position, though such claims have already drawn criticism. Daniel Burke at CNN, for example, noted this afternoon that,
According to a new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 51% of American Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 45% say it should be illegal in all or most cases. In the hours after Francis’ announcement, Catholics on both sides of the debate were seeking to spin the popular pontiff’s remarks.
The remarks must be taken as they stand. Regardless of interpretations of incidents of abortion in the Bible, Pope Francis is saying that abortion can be forgiven. The simple fact is, no spin required, that this is not language used by the largely evangelical Republican base.
The Republican Party has long been waging a war on women’s reproductive rights as party of a broader war on women which includes job opportunities, education, and pay. Ted Cruz has gone one further this year: anxious to make himself relevant, he has declared war on Planned Parenthood, and even asked pastors to violate federal law so that he can score points with the Republican base.
Jubilee years have been decreed every 25 or 50 years since 1300.