Pope Francis proclaimed today that during the Jubilee year starting on December 8th, priests will be allowed to absolve contrite women of the sin of having procured an abortion.
Francis hails from a region with both a high rate of abortion and relatively religious populations. As my mother continued an active role in church after starting birth control in the ’60s, I wonder how many women who have had an abortion continue quietly to participate in Catholic life. The proclamation of mercy may simply be a concession to practical realities.
I have offered meditations on the problem of abortion. In the wording of his proclamation, I feel that Frances has a heart that is open to the realities described in my first post. Abortion is not a choice that any woman would seek, and it indeed leaves scars. Those scars deserve healing. It is here that I find Pope Francis’s message to be yet a little tone-deaf, in that it trumpets “mercy” rather than healing.
When incarnation has already occurred, among the most significant scars of an abortion arise from the struggle of the infant spirit to disentangle itself from its mother’s womb. I know of two ways of solving this problem: one is for the chastened mother to seek a stable relationship in which a baby will thrive, and to bear the worthy father of a child. Church should be an incubator for such relationships, and keeping women out of Church is contrary to that purpose. The second mechanism is for a mature spiritual practitioner to aid the infant spirit in its liberation. This is an intercession by Divine Love that priests are supposed to mediate.
I also am frustrated that the conditions of mercy are limited to “a contrite heart.” I have voiced the opinion that religion should be seen as the mechanism by which we bring people out of primitive spirituality into a rational engagement with the divine powers. Cain was not punished for the murder of Abel, but sent away to reflect and learn. I believe the same is true for any sin, including abortion. The repentant woman should be asked not only “Are you sorry?” but “What did you learn, and how have you changed your life as a result?”
There are women trapped in circumstances in which the answer will be “Nothing.” I offer my own proclamation here: whether or not the Catholic Church is willing to forgive you, Christ will be with you when you are ready to receive healing. That may be in the final moments of your life, when the hold that the pimp or abuser or pusher has on you slips away. Be unafraid, and open your heart to healing. It is from the heart that unclean things come, but it is also from there that the light of Christ enters into the world. When you receive it, those that have forced themselves into you will be infected with compassion, and you will enter into the ranks of the angels.
Yes, Francis, I think that you understand me: it is the place of the Church to help the burdened carry their cross, rather than to beat them down with it.