Broadened Absolution

Pope Francis’ announcement on Sept. 1 that priests worldwide will be able to absolve women for the sin of abortion will have little effect on pastoral practices in the United States and Canada. “It is my understanding that the faculty [authorization] for the priest to lift the latae sententiae excommunication for abortion is almost universally granted in North America,” said Don Clemmer, interim director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Latae sententiae is a Latin term in canon law that means excommunication for certain crimes is automatic. Clemmer said it is “the fiat of the local bishop” whether to allow the priests in his diocese to absolve those sins. Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., confirmed that “the priests of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and throughout the United States have...had the faculties to lift the sanction of excommunication for the sin of abortion for more than 30 years.” He said, “Any woman who has had an abortion, any person who has been involved in an abortion in any way, can always seek God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.”

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