Can the Sin of Abortion Be Forgiven?
Q: I have read that abortion results in excommunication from the Catholic Church. Does this apply to the woman who had it, those who may have pressured her into that decision and those who work in abortion clinics? Is it possible to receive absolution for this sin?
A: A person can be absolved from the sin of abortion.
In our January 1988 issue, Father Norman Perry, O.F.M.,
"Canon 1398 of the present Code of Canon Law says, 'A person
who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae
"That means a Catholic woman who has an abortionand
accomplices without whose assistance the offense would not
have been committed (Canon 1329, #2)is excommunicated
automatically by the law itself if all the other requirements
of the code are present.
"Those conditions are as follows: 1) The abortion was directly
intended and was successful. It was not a case of miscarriage
or accidental loss of the child; 2) The woman involved knew
the penalty was attached to the law forbidding abortion;
3) She was at least 18 years old at the time of the abortion;
4) She had the full use of reason (Down syndrome, for example,
or was not psychologically disturbed); 5) She did not act
out of serious fear.
"If the woman (or accomplice, e.g., the abortionist) has
incurred the penalty of excommunication, canon law (Canon
1355, #2) gives the local ordinary (the bishop) power to
remit it. Many bishops delegate all confessors to absolve
from this excommunication without recourse to themselvesat
least in the case of a first abortion."
This means that in most U.S. dioceses any priest who has
the faculties of the diocese can absolve from this sin and
excommunication the first time.
Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Gospel of Life
includes this passage:
"I would like to say a special word to women who have had
an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which
may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt
that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering
decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed.
Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong.
But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope.
Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
"If you have not already done so, give yourselves over
with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies
is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the
Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand
that nothing is definitely lost and you will also be able
to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in
the Lord" (#99).
offers special training to priest-confessors.
'Remembering It Every Day'
Q: Eight years ago my wife
committed adultery. She said that she did not want it, but
she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have been struggling with this for
the past two years and have decided with God's help to forgive
her and keep our family together. I very much love our two
children, but I cannot forget her adultery. Remembering
it every day is killing me.
A: Retrouvaille (French for "rediscovery") is a
program for couples whose marriage is severely troubled.
It is a weekend program offered by couples and chaplains.
Information is available at www.retrouvaille.org
or by calling 1-800-470-2230. All 2002 U.S. programs are
listed on the Web site.
Last October, Father Daniel Schlegel, a Retrouvaille chaplain
near Cleveland, Ohio, told a convention of its more than
1,000 chaplains and lay ministers that their ministry demonstrates
that nothing is hopeless.
Your marriage has experienced a serious threat, but it
need not be a fatal one. Far from changing a person's past,
forgiveness puts those events in a new light and gives new
freedom to the person deciding to forgive.
What Is Islam?
Q: Someone told me that the
Muslim religion was based on the following of John the Baptist
and that Muslims were originally Christians. Were they?
A: Although John the Baptist had followers, as a
group they had died out by the early seventh century A.D.
when Muhammad began Islam in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Some
Christians became Muslims, but most of today's estimated
one billion Muslims were born into families that have followed
Islam for generations.
Because Islam (the word means "submission
to God's will") is the second largest religion in the world,
and considering that there are approximately seven million
Muslims in the United States (85 percent of them born here),
learning more about Islam is good.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the
world's three largest religions that believe in one God.
For that reason, Pope John Paul II has said that Catholics
should give priority to interreligious dialogue with these
groups. That dialogue is difficult and needed.
These are Islam's five "pillars" (fundamental
obligations): a profession of faith, prayer five times a
day, almsgiving, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least
once in a Muslim's lifetime.
In the Declaration on the Relation
of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the bishops
at Vatican II wrote: "The Church has also a high regard
for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and
subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven
and earth, who has also spoken to humanity. They endeavor
to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees
of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan,
to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own.
"Although not acknowledging him as God,
they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they
also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further,
they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following
the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly
esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way
of prayer, [almsgiving] and fasting" (#3).
At his general audience on October 3,
2001, Pope John Paul II reflected on his September 22-25
visit to Kazakstan. "I encouraged [Catholics] to cooperate
with the Muslims to foster genuine progress in their society.
From that country, in which the followers of different religions
live together in peace, I reaffirmed with force that religion
must never be used as a motive of conflict. Christians and
Muslims, together with the believers of every religion,
are called to repudiate violence firmly in order to build
up a humanity that loves life, that develops in justice
No religion should be judged by the actions
of its most extreme members.
For What Do I Pray?
Q: My sister and I were brought up in a very
loving Catholic home. I became an alcoholic (seven years
of sobriety in A.A. now), and my sister has joined her husband's
Never having had a good relationship with my sister,
I expected this to improve once my life was in order. Now
I feel uncomfortable being around her, especially because
I see how much her decision to join another Church has hurt
How do I talk to God about this? Do I pray that she
leave that Church or that we all learn to accept her new
A: . You could pray that she will be open to God's
grace and to wherever it may lead. This presumes that grace
will not lead her to further alienation from your parents.
I encourage you in your sobriety. If the better relationship
that you desire with your sister does not materialize, you
will not be the first person in recovery to experience that
Your relationship with your sister is only partially your
decision. Be kind to her and be open to an improved relationship,
but do not put your life "on hold" until that happens. Focus
on situations more under your control.
Is There a Patron Saint for Widows?
Q: After my husband's recent death, I was wondering if there is a patron saint for widows. Do you have any suggestions besides St. Monica?
A: One book that I consulted gave the following
saints as patrons of widows: Frances of Rome (d. 1440),
Louise de Marillac (d. 1660), Paula (d. 404) and Priscilla
(widowed at the end of the first century and later martyred).
St. Elizabeth Seton (d. 1821), the first U.S. citizen to
be canonized, was a widow. St. Marguerite d'Youville (d.
1771) was born in Canada and widowed at the age of 29.
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