ROME — Roman Catholic leader Jorge Bergoglio, also known as Pope Francis, has granted priests the unending power to pardon mothers who have obtained abortions, outlining his endowment in a letter issued at the end of his proclaimed “Jubilee Year of Mercy.” The development has raised concern among some.
“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion,” Bergoglio wrote, extending the permission past the temporary Year of Mercy to an indefinite status.
He maintained that abortion is still considered a serious sin by the Roman Catholic Church, but said that he wanted to leave the permission for pardons in place “lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness.”
“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” Bergoglio continued. “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”
According to the Catholic News Service, most bishops had already granted priests permission to forgive those who have obtained an abortion, but Bergoglio’s declaration for the Year of Mercy made it universal.
“According to canon law, procuring an abortion brings automatic excommunication to those who know of the penalty, but procure the abortion anyway,” it explains. “Without formal permission, priests had been required to refer the case to their bishops before the excommunication could be lifted and sacramental absolution could be granted to a woman who had an abortion or those directly involved in the procedure.”
Bergoglio also extended recognition to those who had received absolution of sins by priests under the Fraternity of Saint Pius X.
“For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins,” he wrote.
“For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon,” Bergoglio stated.
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Roman Catholics believe that “[t]o Peter and to all the apostles is given the power to bind and to loose, and this again implies supreme power both legislative and judicial: power to forgive sins, power to free from sin’s penalties.” Therefore, “[a]bsolution proper is that act of the priest whereby, in the Sacrament of Penance, he frees man from sin.”
However, some believe that the concept of a priest granting absolution of sins—abortion or otherwise—is unbiblical and unnecessary.
“The Lord Jesus put an end to the sacerdotal priesthood when He, the perfect high priest, offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice and cried out in victory, ‘It is finished!’ The veil was torn open to the holy of holies showing we have direct access to God through faith in Jesus Christ,” Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries of Plano, Texas told Christian News Network.
“No priest can forgive sins because the Bible declares only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7),” he said. “Even Peter instructed Simon the magician to go directly to God to have his sin forgiven (Acts 8:22-23).”
He opined that Catholics need to know that they can go to God for forgiveness themselves through the sacrifice of Christ, and expressed concern that Bergoglio is “deceiv[ing] people about life’s most critical issue: how can I be forgiven and be made right with God?”
“This declaration by pope continues to give Catholics a false hope,” Gendron stated. “Catholics need to know that divine forgiveness can only be received by repenting and believing the Gospel of grace (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9). Forgiveness cannot be obtained through sacraments and indulgences, only through faith in Christ alone.”