Year of Mercy, and the sin of abortion in the US

Pope Francis stated that during the upcoming “Year of Mercy,” all who repent and confess the sin of abortion will be forgiven… Meaning that there is no need to go to the Bishop to get the excommunication lifted first…

However, I was under the impression that in the U.S.A., this already was the case (that you no longer needed to go to the Bishop first, and that the priest can forgive this sin)

Am I not understanding something here?

If a person participated in the horrible sin of abortion in some way, in the New York area for example, and truely repented and confessed that sin a few years ago (before the year of mercy began), is that person forgiven?

True in the US but not in every country. Francis is extending the grant to lift the excommunication to all priests worldwide.

If a person participated in the horrible sin of abortion in some way, in the New York area for example, and truly repented and confessed that sin a few years ago (before the year of mercy began), is that person forgiven?


So if a person confessed that sin during the early seventies it wasn’t absolved? Did it have to be to a Bishop? I don’t think Bishops in my area hear Confessions. Yikes.This is all a new thing to learn about.

This is already in effect in the US (or at least most of the US) and in other places as well. But the Pope is speaking to the universal Church, so allowing this during the Year of Mercy may be something new in other parts of the world.

The priest would have known whether he had the faculties or not. If he absolved the person, then the person was absolved and shouldn’t worry.

Thanks :smiley: all you guys, I learn from you and appreciate the help.

It is important to remember that although a latae sententiae excommunication is prescribed for this crime, and is “automatic”, there are many conditions which prevent the excommunication from taking effect. Being under 16, ignorance of the penalty, force or duress, and several other factors can do this. So anyone who actually did procure an abortion in the past and sought forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance should absolutely rest assured that his or her confessor knew what he was doing and acted properly, including determining whether the ecclesiastical penalty had actually taken effect and lifting it before absolution if necessary.

Jimmy Akin summarizes things nicely:

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters seems to think that most if not all women who have had abortions do not meet the requirements necessary to actually incur the excommunication:

I guess I should mention that the Year of Mercy is for everyone, not just those who have had abortions in the past. There are a great many of us in need of mercy. This is a time of mercy.

I had always thought the sin of abortion could be forgiven by a priest, in a private confession, within your own Parish. I was wrong?

I think the nuance here is that the sin could always be forgiven, but the in the past the status of excommunication could be lifted only through the bishop. The new directive is that the priest can lift the excommunication without involving the bishop.


I believe so. But it is also the case that in many dioceses, the Bishop had already delegated his authority in this respect to priests.

Perhaps. Pope Francis’ letter is a bit ambiguous. It doesn’t mention “excommunication” but “absolving the sin.” It is true that any priest can absolve the sin; however, since those who have been excommunicated are barred from the sacraments, the excommunication must be lifted first before they can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By law, the bishop is the one who would do this in these cases. But a bishop can delegate this authority to his priests and most bishops in the U.S. have already done so for decades. So, for these places, Pope Francis’ letter doesn’t change anything from what they have already been doing.

It seems a safe assumption that Pope Francis is speaking about the lifting of the excommunication, but that’s not exactly what he says.

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