Todd alerted me to this story from Reuters:
The Vatican has granted priests the right to forgive the sin of abortion when hearing the confessions of hundreds of thousands of young people attending a Roman Catholic youth festival in Spain this week.
The termination of pregnancy is a sin punishable by excommunication under Church law. The World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims will attend a mass confession in the presence of Pope Benedict on Saturday in a central Madrid park.
“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the Madrid archdiocese said in a statement on its website.
Two hundred white portable confessional cabins have been erected in Madrid’s Retiro Park where hundreds of priests will take confessions in different languages from the pilgrims who have travelled to Spain from around the world.
The pontiff will sit in one of the booths on Saturday morning to hear confessions from three visitors, ahead of a mass with up to 6,000 seminarians.
The Vatican already announced on August 11 that it had authorized a plenary, or full indulgence, to all the young people attending the celebrations.
An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven and is traditionally granted to WYD pilgrims.
First of all, could this be one of those many cases in which the reporter completely misunderstands a religious teaching? Can it be true that in the Roman Catholic Church a woman who has had an abortion cannot normally repent, confess, and be absolved of that sin? (Please, may a Catholic reader clear this up for us.) If this is true, we see again the difficulty of finding full forgiveness under the Roman Catholic penitential system. More certain, I suppose, is getting an indulgence. Rome doesn’t sell them anymore, but gives them away for the good work of attending a youth rally!
UPDATE: Mollie Hemingway has confirmed with canon lawyers that priests cannot forgive the sin of abortion without special arrangement. She gave me this quotation linked from a comment in her own discussion of World Youth Day:
“Elaine, I am a canon lawyer. The article is correct. Not all priests have the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion with its attendant automatic excommunication. If a person goes to Confession and confesses abortion, and the priest does not have the faculty to absolve it, he will request the person come back a few days later. In the meantime, he will notify the bishop and ask for the faculty to absolve the sin and lift the excommunication. When the person comes back, then the confession is completed and absolution is given. Many dioceses (such as the one where I work) have granted all priests in the
diocese this faculty.”
So forgiveness comes from the bishop rather than the Word and the promises of the Gospel.