CBCP on Pope’s decision: Abortion remains wrong

Paterno Esmaquel II
Still, a Filipino archbishop says Pope Francis, through a recent decision, wants to show that ‘the mercy of God is bigger than the sin of abortion’

REJECTING ABORTION. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, says the Catholic Church continues to reject abortion as a 'grave and serious wrong.' File photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Thursday, September 3, clarified that abortion “remains a serious wrong,” as Pope Francis recently allowed all priests to absolve this sin. 

“Abortion remains a grave and serious wrong,” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas stressed in a statement. 

Villegas said: “Choosing to terminate innocent, unborn life is not among a woman’s options, because her right to privacy and to make decisions about herself do not extend to the life in her womb, over which she enjoys no dominion at all.  Dependent on her, yes, but entrusted to her stewardship, not handed over to her power!” 

He added that the Catholic Church still considers abortion a mortal sin, or a sin that brings a soul to hell if not confessed to a priest.

He also said aborting a baby merits excommunication. He said this means a person “separates himself or herself from the life of the Church, and from the community of brothers and sisters who uphold the inviolability of life.”

For Catholics, the gravity of the offense makes it more difficult to confess the sin of abortion. 

“Under the present discipline of the Church, abortion is a ‘reserved sin’ – one that can be absolved only by the bishop as the head of the particular church.  He absolves the sin, and lifts the penalty,” Villegas said.

What the Pope did, in a letter on Tuesday, September 1, was to temporarily make it easier to confess abortion by allowing all priests to absolve this sin. 

The Pope’s decision applies during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a special year for the Catholic Church, that runs from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016.

Sin of abortion not ‘less grievous’ 

Known as the Pope of Mercy, Francis said he has “decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

Referring to women who have resorted to abortion, the pontiff said: “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

The Pope added: “What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. 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.” 

Villegas said the CBCP issued its statement because, “quite misleadingly, some news items even announced that the Pope has shown ‘more understanding’ of abortion.’” 

He said the Pope’s decision “does not make the sin less grievious.”  

“What it does is make the mercy of God more tangible through the ministry of the Church,” Villegas said. He added that it makes confession “more readily available” for those who committed abortion. 

“Through this gesture, the Holy Father hopes that all of us sinners may more concretely experience the mercy of God,” he said.

The CBCP president added, “The proper, Catholic response to the Holy Father’s gesture is for all of us, sinners, to approach the mercy of God that constantly reaches out to us, that seeks out the lost.” 

‘Mercy of God bigger than sin’

In an interview quoted by the Union of Catholic Asian News, retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz added that the Pope’s decision “is not to say abortion is okay.”

A canon lawyer, Cruz said, “It is only meant to say that the mercy of God is bigger than the sin of abortion.”

In the Catholic Church, issues of abortion and parenthood have resurfaced the past few days because of several statements by the Pope.

One was his letter that allowed all priests to absolve the sin of abortion.

The other was his video conversation with a single mother in the United States, which was publicized and translated by Vatican Radio on Wednesday, September 2.

In a video link-up arranged by ABC News, single mother Rosemary Farfan told the Pope: “I’ve felt guilty at times and ashamed…But every day, I try and I hope and I pray.”

Francis answered Farfan, who has two daughters: “You respected the life you were carrying inside you, and God is going to reward you for that and he does reward you for that. Don’t be ashamed.”

ABC News offered another translation of the Pope’s words to Farfan: “You are a courageous woman because you brought your daughters into the world. You could have killed them in your womb, but you respected life.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.