In a move that’s sure to piss off the old school Catholics already losing their minds over Pope Francis‘ relatively progressive tenure to date, the leader of the Church decided women who obtain abortions aren’t beyond hope.
In a letter dictating how the “Year of Jubilee” shall be celebrated in the coming months, he made it clear that those women can be forgiven… as long as they feel bad about themselves:
“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father,” Francis writes.
In a theological sense, the letter doesn’t alter the Church’s understanding of abortion, which it has condemned for centuries as “gravely contrary to the moral law” — a teaching the Church’s catechism calls “unchangeable.” Rather, Francis’ expansion of forgiveness is an attempt to counter what he describes as a “superficial” culture he argues leads women to have abortions — an action that makes them automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
“A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life,” Francis writes. “The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. … What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”
As Joshua McElwee explains at the National Catholic Reporter, the letter is remarkable not for how it approaches abortion itself, but for its unusually welcoming tone towards women.
This might look like good news on the surface, but it’s just prettier window dressing for a set of beliefs that seeks to deny women control over their own bodies. This is less about preservation of “life” (if you can call a collection of cells incapable of surviving outside the uterus “life”) than it is about controlling women and their bodies under the reign of a religion that has long relegated women to a subservient role while denying their sexuality. Simply put, women have nothing to apologize or repent for if they get an abortion. The Pope’s suggestion only adds to the unnecessary guilt they experience at the hands of Church officials.
As Dr. Willie Parker — one of two doctors in Mississippi willing to provide abortion care — once put it:
It seems like if they want to reduce abortion, the best thing to do would be to support contraception — but they’re against contraception, too, because contraception and abortion decouple sexuality from procreation. That’s why I think religious preoccupation with abortion is largely about controlling the sexuality of women.
Well said, Dr. Parker. And nice try, Pope Francis. We see you, and we are not impressed.
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