Two days ago, Pope Francis made waves when he announced that priests had the ability to grant absolution to anyone who repents for the sin of abortion. Naturally, this was met with both praise and condemnation alike. However, I think it is important to remember a few key points when discussing the matter on a purely theological level.
First, my own personal views on abortion should have no standing in a post like this. That being said, in the interest of full disclosure, I am pro-life. I am pro-life but I am also aware of the fact that I am not a woman and therefore do not now nor will I ever have the faintest idea of what emotions course through a woman when she finds out she is pregnant. So while I am pro-life, I am usually rather quiet about it. Perhaps I should be more vocal. However, that is something that I will have to answer for at the particular judgement. Now that my personal stance has been revealed, let’s get started.
The Unforgivable Sin is not abortion: Christ clearly states that there is only one sin which cannot be forgiven. In Luke 12:10 Jesus says; “Everyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven, but no one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven.” The question is then; what is blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Is it using foul language or cursing the Spirit? Is it the destruction of sacramentals such as crucifixes and miraculous medals? The answer is no. For the truly repentant, there is no sin that cannot be expunged by the infinite mercy of God. This means, that if a person is truly sorry for their transgressions, willing to take ownership of them, willing to wash them away in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and willing to make amends through prayer and acts of mercy and charity; God will most assuredly forgive them. So then what is the unforgivable sin? What did Christ mean when He referred to blaspheming the Holy Spirit as unforgivable? Simple. The belief that one cannot be forgiven for their sins and the rejection of God’s infinite mercy is unforgivable. Essentially the unforgivable sin is unforgivable because the transgressor doesn’t want to accept the forgiveness. St. John Paul II explains this thoroughly in his 1989 encyclical, Dominum et Vivificantem when he writes, “”blasphemy” does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross. If man rejects the “convincing concerning sin” which comes from the Holy Spirit and which has the power to save, he also rejects the “coming” of the Counselor-that “coming” which was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery, in union with the redemptive power of Christ’s Blood: the Blood which “purifies the conscience from dead works.” Anyone who opposes Pope Francis’ outreach to those who have had abortions through his allowance of priests to absolve them must ask themselves the following question. If the Church makes it nearly impossible for a truly repentant person to receive absolution for their sins, are they fostering the belief in some that there are sins that cannot be forgiven? Are they in fact, encouraging blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in individual’s minds regardless of intention? No sin, is unforgivable if someone honestly desires forgiveness.
My point: the grief, guilt, anguish and longing for a return to the Grace of God caused by sin and the faith and charity of the confessor should be the only criteria for an honest, heart-felt, soul-searching, legitimate confession. It is the infinite mercy of Christ that forgives sins. Not the ecclesiastical rank of the confessor.
It is the Church’s responsibility to offer as many avenues to Christ’s mercy as it possibly can. I may be wrong in my support for the Pope on this. I often am. However, I’d prefer to be wrong and on the side of mercy. Because Lord knows, we all need it.