Hierarchy of Sins -?

I recently read about the Pope , regarding allowing Priests to forgive the sin of Abortion where before only a Bishop or his designator would be authorized to do so?

Abortion is a grave sin given

But there are thousands of “grave sins” -premeditated murder being one-multiple murders as committed by Nazi guards and officers in WWII-the gassing of the Kurds by Sadam in Iraq-Mothers drowning their children -drug dealers supplying people with addiction with drugs that could and often do kill them -kidnapping women and holding them captive for 10 years as in Cleveland?

I presume a Priest can forgive murders why is the sin of Abortion different?

Is it the sheer numbers? Is there a political statement in there somewhere-is it to drive home to the RC faithful the Church’s strong position on this?

so are there a) really bad sins b) bad sins c)the usual sins and then there is the almost unforgivable sin of Abortion

is there a principle there somewhere -it would seem that the desecration of the Eucharist would be the absolute most heinous and would require some special approach or no forgiveness at all

Yes there is a hierarchy of sins. Generally they are divided into mortal (which break off our friendship with God) and venial (everything else). But that’s not all there is to it. Within each of these categories, there is a broad spectrum.

Some theologians (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas) and certain writers (e.g. Dante) have attempted at least partial hierarchies of sins, but there is no definitive hierarchy given by the Church as infallible doctrine, so we have to trust the best theologians and use reasonable principles (How offensive is it to God? Does scripture call it a “sin that cries out to heaven”? Is it one of the Ten Commandments? If not a sin against God alone, how much harm does it do to my neighbor or to myself? How much does it go against nature?)

But you’re talking about legal penalties attached to sins. While there will generally be a correspondence between the gravity of a penalty and the gravity of a sin, it does not follow that every grave sin will incur a grave ecclesiastical penalty. The reason is that ecclesiastical penalties, like those in civil law, are designed to dissuade people from committing the crime, to bring them to repentance, etc. A sin may be heinous, but it could be so common, or its perpetrators so hard-hearted, or there could be any number of other reasons, that a given penalty may be ineffective or impractical or impossible to enforce given a particular sin.

Incidentally, even desecration of the Eucharist can be forgiven–any sin can be forgiven except obstinacy in sin and refusal of forgiveness–but desecration of the Eucharist is a sin reserved to the Holy See; in other words you can’t just go to confession to your local priest, but must go through the Apostolic Penitentiary based in Rome. Others, IIRC, require the absolution of the bishop. (Although Pope Francis has made an exception in this regard for the Year of Mercy.)

Thank you so much -very nice explanation

Media coverage is misleading. Understand there are 2 different issues; the sin itself; and the sinner’s relation to the Church, which may have been impacted by the sin.

Historically certain sins - and potential ecclesiastic penalties, including excommunication - were considered so - my term - “complicated” - that the average priest was required to have recourse to his bishop. He would ask the penitent to come back next week. In the meantime, the priest would contact the bishop, receive guidance (without telling the name of the penitent). The following week the priest would forgive the sinner in confession. Certain sins cause automatic excommunication; the priest in confession lifts that excommunication. (It should go without saying that there usually would be a need for far more by the priest, especially in terms of counsel, etc, that begins with the first contact).

On many levels, abortion is more “complicated” - psychological, familial, as well as moral. I didn’t say it is *worse *than mass murder, etc.

The priest is not there for the sin, but for the sinner. The moral measure of an action depends on personal circumstances and knowledge, which vary from person to person.

In recent years, sadly, abortion has become much more common, thus most priests have come across that sin much more, and are more experienced in dealing with it. In the US and some other countries, bishops have delegated that to their priests for a few decades now. Thus the pope’s action has no official effect in the US - he is granting them authority they already had been given by their bishops since the 1970s - but really his emphasis is not on abortion, but on the sacrament. He has taken other actions, all to focus on Confession, making it more accessible to people. His purpose IMHO is not official technical changes, but an exhortation, an encouragement - Go to Confession! Just as he goes himself.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.