The announcement that Pope Francis will make it easier for those who have had abortions to find forgiveness and absolution is not, as some media outlets have reported, a dramatic turnaround for the Catholic Church. It is a welcome development, but a development in the same direction that the Church — and the pro-life movement — have been traveling since their inception.
In order to understand Pope Francis's statement on forgiving the sin of abortion, you must first know a little about the teachings of the Catholic Church. Priests have the authority to forgive sins in the sacrament of confession. But some sins are so serious that, under certain circumstances, the priest needs special authorization from his bishop. Abortion falls into that category. However, because abortion is so widespread, many bishops — including those in the United States — give their priests the authorization to fully reconcile to the Church anyone who confesses, with sincere repentance, the sin of abortion.
So in practice, in other words, most people don't know the difference. They sin, they repent, they go to confession, and all is well between them and God and the Church.
But Pope Francis is now extending to priests worldwide — who do not already have it – the authorization to reconcile those guilty of abortion. This is a special provision of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins December 8th.
Extending mercy to the women who have had abortions is nothing new for the Catholic Church. But some advocates of abortion depict the Church as a giant monster pointing fingers of condemnation at women who have had abortions. Nothing is further from the truth.
As co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, I have witnessed firsthand the testimonies of the women who regret their abortion and who found mercy, forgiveness and peace through the Church. You can go to SilentNoMore.com to read their stories of the mercy and forgiveness they found. So if the pope's message of mercy reaches more people who have been harmed by abortion, that is great — but it is exactly what the Silent No More Awareness Campaign has been doing since it began in 2002.
In addition, the hand of mercy that the Catholic Church extends for those who have had an abortion has been experienced by countless people through the ministry of Rachel's Vineyard, an after-abortion recovery retreat program developed by Catholic psychologist Dr. Theresa Burke. For decades, this retreat program, based on sound psychological research, on the Word of God and on the sacraments of the Church has been extending that mercy to women, men and their families.
These are just two of the expressions of the ministry of reconciliation that has been at the heart of the Church for 2,000 years.
Perhaps the reason that so many people tend to think that this gesture of Pope Francis is a "dramatic turnaround" for the Church is precisely that mercy is so astonishing. The more we look evil in the face, the more wondrous mercy appears and the more we are amazed that God can be so good.
When our Silent No More Campaign began and women started sharing their stories in public and holding signs at the annual March for Life in D.C. saying, "I Regret My Abortion," some people thought they were supporting abortion, and didn't know what to make of it. But, gradually, the crowds of abortion foes realized that these were women who had repented of their abortions, found healing from its wounds and now were standing against the very thing that wounded them. The astonishing face of mercy was on full display.
You will find no more committed opponents to abortion than at that annual March for Life. And yet, what they began to do was literally to applaud and embrace these women who had experienced repentance and forgiveness.
In the work that I do, we have ministered to women who have had as many as 25 abortions. They have found welcome and peace. It is astonishing. The dramatic turnaround is not for the Catholic Church to make, but rather for those who have not yet allowed themselves to be astonished by the mercy that is already there.Janet Morana is executive director of Priests For Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.