Hey, gals, there’s a one-time-only “special” on forgiveness in Madrid this week! Had an abortion? No problem, as they say in Spain. The Pope in Rome has waived your culpability — just this once!!
That is how way too many news stories about World Youth Day read. “Pope dangles ‘fruits of divine grace’ to excommunicated Catholics who admit, during Madrid event, to terminations,” the Guardian tells us.
And then, there are the commentaries in response: full of anger and confusion, only adding to the pain people affected by abortion already know. On Slate’s “XX Factor” blog, where you go to find out “What Women Really Think,” Amanda Marcotte writes: “Oh boy, the Vatican, no doubt patting itself on the back for being so generous to the filthy sluts of the world, has set up a six-day event in Madrid where ladies who’ve had abortions can come and confess in order to escape the automatic excommunication they otherwise would get.” Marcotte expresses her feelings about the Church in a poisonous polemical graphic cocktail of rhetorical rage along the lines of, “There go those money-grubbing misogynist child-rapist priests again.”
And so, women can’t receive forgiveness unless they are in Madrid these few days? A priest has to text his bishop if I walk in and bare my soul about this grave sin I am aching for God’s forgiveness for?
Rest assured: It’s not quite what you have been reading in much of the news coverage.
For WYD Madrid, it is true that 200 confessionals have been set up for a sacramental opportunity for pilgrims.
But this abortion-forgiveness issue is not a one-time only or particularly rare opportunity. As one U.S.-based, Rome-trained priest on his way to Madrid pointed out, the position of those confessors is not all that rare, at least not for Americans. “Such faculties to remove the censure incurred by abortion (when someone has an abortion knowing it is a de facto [latae sententiae] excommunicable offense) are normal in the U.S. Basically every bishop gives it to every priest who hears confessions because abortion is rather common, especially among women who have been away from the sacrament for awhile. Without it, if someone came to confess an abortion, a priest would need to ask permission anonymously of the diocese or the sacred penitentiary at the Vatican for the ability to remove the censure incurred so that he could absolve the sins. In ordinary parish work, it’s not too much to ask someone to come back tomorrow. But that would be practically impossible at WYD for a particular penitent to find a particular confessor again. This is such a no-brainer from the sacramental point of view — and is ordinary for the course, at least in the U.S.”
No less than the Pope in Rome, the now Blessed Pope John Paul II, wrote explicitly, in his 1995 encyclical on Evangelium Vitae: “I would now 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. To the same Father and his mercy, you can, with sure hope, entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.”
That I cut and pasted from the Vatican’s website, by the way. And there was nothing about having to wait for a few days in Madrid (time is running out!!!) in 2011.
“The Church has always been there offering forgiveness,” Theresa Bonapartis, who works with post-abortive women and men in New York, tells me. But she worries: “We just do not talk about it as much as we should. I think some people are afraid to because they think if we do people are going to think they can abort because they know they can be forgiven. I guess, in some ways, there is a truth to that because there are some abortion clinics who say ‘God understands; don’t you think he will forgive you?’ while they are actually in the process of killing their child, which of course, is very different. They forget you have to be contrite and have firm purpose of amending your life.”
She adds: “In many ways, confession is the beginning of healing. I believe you cannot look at the horror of your abortion until you know the love and forgiveness of God. Knowing his unconditional love is what allows you to look at your abortion honestly.”
But you wouldn’t know that from many of the stories you’re reading this week.
“God is kind and merciful. There is no one who is beyond the pale of his redemption. There is no one whom God cannot redeem and use for his purposes,” Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote around the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene in July. “I worry,” he added, “sometimes that we might be forgetting that in our society.”
Clearly, there is reason to worry. And pray.
“People make mistakes,” Archbishop Gomez wrote. “They sin. Some people do evil that causes scandal and grave harm. We can condemn the offense and work for justice — without trying to destroy the person who committed the sin. We are called in all things to charity and truth, kindness and empathy.”
“The life of Mary Madgalene is a reminder that God is always merciful — even if we are not,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.
In a brochure, the Sisters of Life — women whose lives are dedicated to building a culture of life and healing pain from the culture of death — offer an invitation to “Hope and Healing After Abortion.” Bonapartis emphasizes the need to take a few steps back from the heat of politics. Yes, there is a grave sin there. But, a post-abortive woman herself, who has devoted her life to helping women, and men, avoid abortion and seek forgiveness: “We have lost our children, and we need to be allowed to grieve for them,” she writes. That in a publication from a group of Catholic nuns, who were established by the late John Cardinal O’Connor and who happen to be running the English-language hub at World Youth Day this year.
Politics isn’t always merciful. Although Rick Santorum sure gave mercy some justice during the Aug. 11 Republican presidential-candidate debate in Iowa. When he was asked if he was too harsh for his party on abortion, he talked about the “trauma” and “violence” of abortion with great compassion.
It’s a harsh world here. It seems to only get harsher with every new-media outlet out for immediate rant gratification. But I’m reminded of the prayer of Mother Mary Agnes Donovan and the Sisters of Life at Cardinal O’Connor’s funeral in 2000: “All of a sudden, the president and his wife were there, and they were never in the cathedral when he was alive. And others of great rank were there, who also would not have been inclined to be there when he was alive. And we were praying from the bottom of our hearts, saying, ‘If this is so, let the truth as he would have told it, be told.’” And so they prayed and prayed and prayed, she recalls: “And when the applause was set off in St. Patrick’s, that was the answer to our prayers. The truth was told: about life, about the preciousness of human life, without a word being said. He told that truth so well in his life, and told it one more time in death.”
We mustn’t let misleading headlines and reporting and angry commentary obscure the truth — and keep our brothers and sisters from justice and mercy. No sin is unforgivable, if we are truly sorry. Pray and pray and pray that truth is heard and embraced.