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Excommunication for abortion can also be lifted by priest-confessor, Vatican archbishop says

November 21, 2016

At a November 21 press conference, the president of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization told reporters that Pope Francis has changed the provision of canon law stipulating that anyone involved in an abortion was punished by excommunication, which could only be lifted by a bishop.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella said that during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, when the Pope gave individual confessors the authority to absolve sins of abortion, he had also, by implication, enabled these priests to life the excommunication. “Canon law is a body of laws, and whenever the Pope introduces a measure that alters the dictates of the law, the article that specific measure concerns, necessarily needs to be changed,” Archbishop Fisichella said. In this instance, he said, “a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication is revoked” when someone is absolved of a sin of abortion.

The archbishop was answering questions prompted by the Pope’s decision to extend that authority for priest-confessors to absolve penitents of the sin of abortion. Although the Roman Pontiff has the authority to change canon law, the text of the Code of Canon Law has not been amended to reflect the change that Archbishop Fisichella indicated.

The archbishop said that in September 2015, when Pope Francis announced the new policy, the Pontiff had explained his reasons for easing access to reconciliation. “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” the Pope wrote, “especially when that person approaches the sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.”

Archbishop Fisichella said that absolution—and the lifting of excommunication—is available not only to women who have procured abortion, but also to doctors who performed the procedure and others who were directly involved. All can be fully reconciled by a priest in Confession.


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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 22, 2016 1:24 PM ET USA

    A priest lifting an excommunication? Are so many abortions occurring these days that bishops are being overwhelmed by the burden of lifting the excommunications? Scratch another canon from the CIC. Let's see how many of these appear to have been revoked in the last few weeks: (1) against abortion, (2) against heresy, (3) against apostasy, (4) against schism, (5) against desecration of the Eucharist for a noble cause. The only one left untouched is the one against physically assaulting the pope.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Nov. 21, 2016 6:43 PM ET USA

    I don't know whether to weep or rejoice for priests. Personally, I am untouched by abortion but that the offense exists at all grieves me deeply. I cry for the souls murdered in the womb before they ever caught sight of the world around them. What penance would God require of them? Surely, not three Hail Mary's, three Our Fathers and three Glory Bes. Heavy indeed is the burden for priests listening to penitents confess the sin of abortion. Should professional counseling be included? From whom?