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Abortion in the confessional

English Spanish

The confessor who discloses a sin heard in confession by attaching to it the name of a penitent incurs automatic excommunication; in canonical language, "latae sententiae."

But when a priest has been celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in different countries for 45 years, he does not denounce anyone in particular by saying that he has heard almost everything: faults of charity, omission of obligations, slander, adultery, robbery, fornications, grudges, tax evasion, and also abortions.

Sometimes an octogenarian woman comes to confession, accusing herself of having had an abortion. Do not think that I am talking about a woman who conceived in old age like Sarah, the wife of Abraham. No. She is confessing to what she did as a teenager. If the priest asks her why she took so long to confess it, she probably will reply that she has confessed it many times.

What happens is that there are mothers who do not forgive themselves for the crime. Some even remember the age that this human being — who could have made so many positive contributions to this world — would be celebrating had he or she been allowed to live. Abortion embittered these women’s lives.

It is up to the compassionate confessor to encourage the penitent to trust in divine mercy and to stop confessing something already forgiven. To make clear to her that during that time she did not have the moral maturity she now has; perhaps she was not well evangelized during her childhood, and developed a personal faith much later. Maybe the pregnancy put her in a state of panic that clouded her judgment.         

If the presbyter asks who influenced her decision to have an abortion, answers vary. Some will mention the accomplice of the pregnancy — let's call him the "boyfriend with benefits" — who refused to take responsibility for the child and who would not provide support. Another will reveal that conception was the result of rape or incest. Some say that their mothers forced them to have an abortion as the only solution to saving the honor of the family. (Saving the honor with innocent blood? What kind of honor is that!) There are also married women who have had abortions, blaming health problems, poor finances, or simply not wanting to raise children.

If the confessor is familiar with politics, he may also ask whether the government’s permissive laws encouraged her to get an abortion. I have never heard a woman say she had an abortion based on what the civil authority allows or forbids.

That does not mean that the government is exonerated from responsibility. But it is very difficult for a government in a pluralistic and, in a certain sense, post-Christian society to issue laws condemning mothers who have had an abortion to life imprisonment along with their doctors. Clandestine abortions increase in places where laws severely prohibit the practice, or people opt to travel to countries where there is a lesser risk of running afoul of the law. In 1950s Havana, I learned of a doctor who had a big operating room in the basement of his mansion where he performed abortions, especially on women from abroad.

If it is not possible to put abortionists in jail, at least it should be possible for medical insurance not to cover such infanticide. Abortion does not cure; it kills.

Those of us who advocate for life must redouble our efforts to scientifically demonstrate that, despite being dependent on the mother through the umbilical cord, the human embryo is already independent from her in other ways. Also, and even though we consider ourselves independent, we depend on many others to survive because we are social beings.

We also must insist that the life of the unborn is a sacred value that is off limits for people of all cultures and religions, even for atheists. Respecting life is part of the natural moral law. Of course, everything can be seen more clearly through faith. We read in the Catechism that "the Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (No. 366).  Therefore, the unborn is not property of the mother, but of God, the "lover of life" (Wisdom 11:26).

Finally, counseling services need to improve. There is a need for better outreach to young women who are tempted to choose an abortion, to persuasively present a better option: giving their child up for adoption.

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Comments from readers

Stephanie Fisher Marcantel - 01/16/2017 10:25 PM
There are so many loving, beautiful alternatives to abortion now. First being the churches cooperation in faith and counseling as the expectant mother is nurtured by so many couples willing to foster her as her babygrows to delivery and many will "adopt them , beyond, Creating a healthy loving, supportive environment for mother, baby and couple. Others may choose to live in a home for unwed mother's where they are nutured and strengthened by our faith creating lasting friendships for after the children are born, accepting the solution of sharing expenses, schooling, etc. while raising their babies according to our faith and finding the strength as mutual friends in gaining a healthy, "Can Do" spirit, thattheycertainly be proud of. Last, but surely not least, when these unexpected ripples come into our lives, and I believe true faith filled parents, while concerned, surround their loved one in the faith as one holy family and welcome new life~with the knowledge and acceptance of God's plan. Showering love and light to their child and/or grandchild or both. Making it averyintimate walk with God and in his goodness to really listen to Him as he leads the way. Through attending mass, prayer, lectio, and counseling , if needed. A real mom follows her instincts with her children and grandchildren, without hesitancy, regardless of what the outside world says or thinks. As in doing this and relying heavily on our faith we shall be gifts to each other and find the strength to live to see their little baby, child, teen grow in which the same love is not only reciprocated, but the mother actually grows within herself both in faith and worth!
Deacon Jim Dugard - 01/16/2017 09:46 AM
Well done Father, you give tremendous insight to the pain of abortion many years after it took place. I only the men and women who choose that horrific act would understand that there is love and forgiveness with God if we just seek Him out in true contrition. May God continue to bless and inspire all the confessors of the world, and may He bring to an understanding of humanity the value of even the smallest human life, in the world and in God's eyes. As we approach Roe V. Wade anniversary may we pray for an end to abortion!!!

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