Pope Francis has supercharged his upcoming visit to the United States (beginning September 22) by announcing that the permission to absolve the sin of abortion would be extended to all priests during the Year of Mercy (beginning December 8). (Click to see the letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization). The interesting thing is that almost all priests already have the faculties (ecclesial permission) to give absolution from this sin. Nonetheless, this announcement is important for at least two main reasons: first, as a reminder; and second, as an invitation.
First, the extension of permission to all priests reminds us of the importance of Confession. We know no sin is too great for God to forgive, and as agents of that forgiveness, priests must be generous in providing the ordinary occasion for Catholics to receive it: in Sacramental Confession. All Catholics are also reminded that abortion is a sin, an important announcement in a time of moral relativism.
As an invitation, the Pope’s letter mentions the extension of sacramental faculties to priests belonging to the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, or the “Lefebvrist” movement priests. As Pope Francis states “I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins”. This concession, is to my mind, the bigger part of the Pope’s announcement, as it is a direct invitation for SSPX members to consider how much this Pope is committed to unity. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of the announcement is guided by the Holy Spirit during the Year of Mercy!
Here’s a cute but informative short video on the Sacrament of Confession…