A. For those who either have an abortion or assist a woman in having an abortion, a serious sin is committed against God and the sanctity of life. Those involved also receive a ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication. Translation: unless certain exemptions are met (ie the woman is under the age of 16 or is forced to have the abortion by an abusive spouse, et al) the woman and those assisting in the abortion are automatically excommunicated from the Church.
To return to a state of grace, those involved in the abortion must have their excommunication remitted AND receive absolution for the sin. This is typically done during confession and the lifting of the excommunication may not even be specifically mentioned by the confessor. Remitting an excommunication due to abortion requires a bishop (and thus would require confessing directly to a bishop). Bishops may delegate this faculty to priests, but it is at the discretion of each individual bishop. This is where Pope Francis’s announcement comes in. Pope Francis has extended the ability for ALL priests throughout the entire Church (during the Jubilee Year of Mercy) to remit the excommunication and subsequently absolve the penitent of the sin of abortion.
Does this mean the Church has softened its stance on abortion? Absolutely not. However, Pope Francis states “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the sacrament of confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father”. He describes “women who bear in their hearts the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.” and so had directed that “priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome, combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion.”
Most Canadian priests have been granted this faculty for some time and so for us nothing has really changed pastorally. However, for those living in diocese where their bishop has not delegated this faculty, and for the world at large, Pope Francis has significantly affirmed his message of love and forgiveness during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.