The headline “Pope to allow all priests to forgive abortion during Holy Year” is an inaccurate and misleading statement. The pope cannot allow priests to forgive any sin, abortions included or determine which sin needs or does not need forgiveness. This is because;
- Our Lord Jesus Christ already commissioned priests with this responsibility as His representatives on earth. John 20:19-23 states, “then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled,[a] for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (NKJV). The sacrament of reconciliation, penance, or confession is one of the beauties of the Catholic Church. It was the above stated biblical passage that established the grounds on which priests hear confessions and remit absolution. It is noteworthy that any penitent individual will have their sins forgiven if they are sincere and contrite in their heart. It is immaterial whether absolution is granted or denied, God is the one who forgives us our sins and faults. However, Christ not the pope specifically handed the responsibility to hear confession and absolve sins to his apostles which priests represent.
- Our sins can only be forgiven if we humbly confess them, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). An individual can decide to go directly to God in prayer for forgiveness of sins, however, the Catholic Church also chose to adopt the practice found in John 20:23 hence it is a command from our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone knows why He gave the apostles this responsibility. It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to be hearers and adherents of the word of God especially those explicit commands. The fact that some Christian denominations don’t have this practice should not negate or invalidate the instructions specifically handed down by Jesus Christ.
- In 1 Corinthians 11:27 Christ instructed that we should examine ourselves before we receive the body and blood of Christ(Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion) lest we bring condemnation upon ourselves, “whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” When we go to confession, we hold a conversation with the priest who in turn counsels us and encourages us to live a Christ like life. God’s forgiveness can never be denied to a person who has genuinely repented especially when they have come to partake in the sacrament of reconciliation in order to be truly reunited with God the Father. In its bid to save souls, the Catholic Church thought it wise that mortal sin needs to be confessed before a priest. It is the responsibility of every priest not to deny any penitent soul absolution when seeking God’s face during confession. Likewise, an individual guilty of venial sin equally needs to be in a state of grace before receiving the body and blood of Christ.
My brothers and sisters there is no issue here. The pope isn’t promulgating a new law. He is only improving upon an already existing order. The catholic church has always practiced mercy as instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ. A penitent sinner can never be denied forgiveness. This has always been the practice of the Catholic Church. All it takes is to ask for forgiveness, seek God’s face, and knock on God’s door and it will be rendered to you according to your word. There is nothing wrong in going to confession before a priest, Christ commanded it. It is neither a doctrine or pope sanctioned authority. If we can share our darkest secrets on live television broadcast, confide in counselors, therapists, friends, and pastors etc. we shouldn’t be outraged that Christ expressly gave his apostles the authority to forgive and retain sin. When we attend confession, we are not confessing our sins to Fr. John or Fr. James because they are God. If that’s what you’ve had at the back of your mind, then that mindset needs to be changed immediately. It is God who forgives. Priests are Christ’s representatives on earth. Christ handed down the command to forgive or retain sins on His behalf because He knew that He was no longer going to be physically present on earth. It was Christ who gave the apostles this authority and not man.