Pope Francis speaks with young people in a youth centre dedicated to Pope John Paul II during his visit to Sarajevo, on June 6, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Dado Ruvic *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-ABUSE, originally transmitted on June 10, 2015.

Local clergy say pope’s move to allow priests to forgive abortion is an example of mercy, grace

By Peter Houston-Hencken

In a pivotal move for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis declared last month that all priests now have the power to forgive those involved in abortions. For many years the church has considered abortion to be a sin forgivable only by individuals in higher positions than a priest, such as a bishop or members of the Vatican.

In his official statement on the decision Pope Francis maintained that abortion is “a grave sin,” but that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”

American priests have always had the ability to forgive the sin of abortion, the Rev. Curtis Seidel, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes  said.

Seidel continued in saying the biggest reaction he has seen to the pope’s decision is confusion among his parishioners.

“I’ve had people come up to me—people who have had an abortion and had gone to confession and for years thought, and accurately so, thought that they had been forgiven,” Seidel said.

Other than confusion, Seidel said he has not seen any negative reactions to the pope’s decision in his parish. 

“I think it’s wonderful that Pope Francis has emphasized mercy so much,” Seidel said. “That’s one thing that people are talking about, not so much the substance of these particular things.”

The pope’s duty is not to change the church’s teachings, Seidel said. Instead the pope helps reveal the teachings in a new way.

Some Protestant leaders also find Pope Francis’ decision to be an honorable statement that helps put the church on the right path. 

Daniel White, pastor of Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church is happy the pope made his decision on abortion because it emphasizes the power of grace over sin.

“When we miss the fact that grace is written in massive, bold, all caps, 120-point font, and sin is in six-point font, that’s how we ought to be reading the Scriptures,” White said. “And when we elevate one sin over another, I think we do damage to the way that the Bible talks about sin.”

White emphasized that sin is not the topic of the Bible, instead it focuses on God’s relationship with humanity. 

He also said that while there may be many Protestants who disagree with the Pope’s decision and do not recognize his authority, there are those who believe the Pope has more in common with Protestants than in opposition. 

While the value of forgiveness is important to both religious leaders, neither would recommend a woman to have an abortion. White said he has seen too many women have negative experiences with their abortions.

“I would never advise someone to have an abortion,” White said. “But it’s on a pastoral basis, because I’ve had too many friends who’ve had abortions, and I’ve had too many interactions with adult women who have had abortions in the past to know that it is a much more devastating experience than a simple surgical procedure.”

Seidel said that the Catholic Church has taken action against abortions through different means including praying outside abortion clinics. However, Seidel believes that the church has taken other actions that are more impactful on people’s lives.

“The one I think has a greater impact on individual lives would be the work of Catholic charities,” Seidel said. “C.A.P.A. is Childbirth And Parenting Assistance. We’ll take a mother or family who is in need and not only provide for their needs up until the birth but for the first five years of the child’s life. Housing, diapers, childcare.”

While American priests have always been able to forgive the sin of abortion, this decision will ensure that any repentant person around the world can be forgiven by a priest for being involved in the process of abortion. 

To this day there remain only a handful of sins that American priests cannot forgive. Those include a physical attack on the pope and the intentional damaging of the elements of communion.

About Peter Houston-Hencken

Peter Houston-Hencken is a recent graduate of Whitworth University with a degree in journalism. Peter currently works for a background investigation firm but is passionate about freelancing on the weekends. Peter grew up as the son of a Presbyterian pastor. He feels strong in his faith and his commitment to Jesus Christ. He aspires to have a career in journalism and help people get more informed about the events in their communities.

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