I recently heard that abortion carries the penalty of excommunication. If a woman later repents, can this excommunication be lifted by a priest in the confessional? Is the normal absolution sufficient, or is there more to the form?
A Catholic who procures an abortion is automatically excommunicated. This type of excommunication is known as a latae sententiae excommunication. The *Catechism of the Catholic Church * explains, “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae, by the very commission of the offense, and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society” (CCC 2272).
Code of Canon Law generally requires that latae sententiae excommunications be remitted by a bishop. “If the penalty has not been reserved to the Apostolic See, an ordinary can remit a latae sententiae penalty established by law but not yet declared for his subjects and those who are present in his territory or who committed the offense there; any bishop can also do this in the act of sacramental confession” (CIC 1355 §2).
However, a priest may conditionally remit this type of excommunication through confession in certain situations. The code states, “…a confessor can remit in the internal sacramental forum an undeclared latae sententiae censure of excommunication or interdict if it is burdensome for the penitent to remain in the state of grave sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to make provision.
“In granting the remission, the confessor is to impose on the penitent, under the penalty of reincidence, the obligation of making recourse within a month to the competent superior or to a priest endowed with the faculty and the obligation of obeying his mandates; in the meantime he is to impose a suitable penance and, insofar as it is demanded, reparation of any scandal and damage; however, recourse can also be made through the confessor, without mention of the name.
“After they have recovered, those for whom an imposed or declared censure or one reserved to the Apostolic See has been remitted according to the norm of canon 976 are also obliged to make recourse” (CIC 1357 §1-3).