By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published February 5, 2016 | En Español
A few weeks ago, one of our priests asked me to dedicate one of my columns to the Holy Father’s concession to all priests during this Jubilee Year of Mercy granting them the authorization to absolve those who humbly confess the sin of having obtained or participated in the procurement of an abortion.
This priest apparently had recently encountered some people who might have been confused when they heard of the pope’s concession. They thought that they had already previously confessed this sin. Now they questioned whether their prior penitence and absolution were invalid or flawed in some way.
In fact, Archbishop Thomas Donnellan during his ministry (1968 to 1987) granted every priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta the permission and the authority to reconcile any person in confession who sought forgiveness of this sin. From that moment forward, and subsequently supported by every archbishop of Atlanta, our priests have welcomed penitents who sought the Lord’s mercy for this personally heartrending situation with a compassionate expression of mercy and forgiveness.
The absolution given in all those confessions has been and remains completely valid and hopefully comforting and healing for every person who had obtained the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Pope Francis’ action is but another expression of our Church’s desire to comfort and to heal those whose lives have been touched by this poignant moment. We know that even after an efficacious celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Church must continue to reach out to comfort and to strengthen those who have humbly faced the issue of abortion.
A number of post-abortion supportive programs are intended to reassure those who have faced this issue. Probably the best known of these resources is Project Rachel. This compassionate service is done confidentially with the highest degree of discretion for those who seek this assistance. You can learn more about Project Rachel on the archdiocesan website (www.archatl.com/ministries-services/respect-life-ministry/healing-after-abortion/) or by contacting a member of the clergy or parish staff person.
During this Year of Mercy, the Church must redouble its efforts to bring healing and compassion to those who may quietly suffer from this sad situation in their lives.
Pope Francis wants everyone in the Church to seek and to find the merciful Father as they bring their hearts and hopes to this sacramental encounter. He has urged all of us who are confessors to make frequent use of the sacrament ourselves and to recall our own sinfulness and our need for the mercy that God Himself wants to grant to every sinner whenever we welcome our sisters and brothers in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacrament ought to be an opportunity for compassion and not filled with dread.
A couple of years ago, Pope Francis exhorted a group of Roman priests on the day of their ordination with this sage and humorous advice: “Never grow tired of being merciful! Please! You have the capacity to forgive as did the Lord, who did not come to condemn but to forgive! Have mercy, a lot. … If you come to have concerns about being too much of a ‘forgiver,’ think of that saintly priest … who went before the tabernacle and said, ‘Lord, forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But you have given me the worst example!’”