Pope Francis should remove the penalty of excommunication for abortion

Currently, under Canon law, anyone who commits the sin of abortion, and any accomplices without whose help the crime of abortion could not have been committed, are excommunicated (latae sententiae). Pope Francis has decreed that, during the Year of Mercy, any priest can lift the sentence of excommunication (even SSPX priests). My opinion is that the Pope should change Canon law, removing the penalty of excommunication for abortion completely.

Now abortion would remain a grave sin, and anyone who commits that grave sin with full knowledge and full deliberation would be guilty of actual mortal sin, which results in the loss of the state of grace. Everyone who dies unrepentant from any actual mortal sin will be punished with eternal hellfire. So the doctrine of the Church on abortion would not change at all.

But at this point in time, it is no longer useful and is counterproductive to have a penalty of excommunication for abortion.

Many persons commit abortion by means of abortifacient contraception. This sin is no less grave than surgical abortion. The sins of euthanasia and the murder of a person of any age (subsequent to birth) are no less grave than abortion, and yet there is no penalty of excommunication for these sins. Other grave sins also do not carry the penalty of automatic excommunication, including: contraception, homosexual sins, gay marriage, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, masturbation, unnatural sexual acts in marriage, rape, child abuse, etc. The Church does not excommunicate all persons who commit grave sin, so the argument fails which proposes that abortion must including the penalty of excommunication because of its gravity.

Instead of a penalty of automatic excommunication for abortion, I suggest that the Church clearly and emphatically teach that anyone who has committed a grave sin of any kind, unrepentant and unconfessed, may not receive Communion. Repent and go to confession. Otherwise, people become caught up on the juridical aspect of excommunication, and they do not focus on what is most important: repentance and confession. And that is counterproductive.

Many Catholics today receive Communion, despite committing objective mortal sins without repentance or confession. Most Communion-receiving Catholics today never go to confession at all. The emphasis needs to be on repentance and confession. So I would like the Church to teach more clearly on various popular grave sins, and emphasize that Catholics should not be receiving Communion without confession. To emphasize the importance of confession, I think that Canon law should require all Catholics to go to confession at least once every 3 months, with a one month extension for a just reason.

It is pointless to have a penalty of excommunication for abortion that can be lifted by any priest. It serves no purpose, since the person need only go to Confession — something they should do for ALL grave sins, not just abortion.

Some persons have suggested that Pope Francis extend the rule that any priest can lift excommunication for abortion beyond the Year of Mercy. I think that he might remove the penalty altogether. Perhaps he will also remove all the penalties of automatic excommunication (other than apostasy, heresy, and schism).

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Pope Francis should remove the penalty of excommunication for abortion

  1. Jeff says:

    Insightful article, Ron, thank you. If a person was unaware of automatic excommunication for committing the sin of abortion, but went to confession and received absolution, is this individual still excommunicated despite their ignorance of canon law? Does this person still need the excommunication lifted by a priest?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Anyone unaware of the law and its penalty is not excommunicated at all. Most priests in the U.S. have the faculties to life the excommunication, even prior to the Year of Mercy.

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