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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Was the Incarnation Always Intended?


Can the Sin of Abortion Be Forgiven?
'Remembering It Every Day'
What Is Islam?
For What Do I Pray?
Is There a Patron Saint for Widows?

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., wrote:

"Canon 1398 of the present Code of Canon Law says, 'A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.'

"That means a Catholic woman who has an abortion—and 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 themselves—at 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).

Project Rachel 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 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 and solidarity."

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 Christian denomination.

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 my parents.

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 life?

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 disappointment.

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.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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