New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan has applauded the Madrid archdiocese's decision to authorize all priests at World Youth Day to forgive abortion, a task normally reserved for the local bishop.
“At special times like this the Church bends over backwards to say ‘Alleluia, your sins are forgiven; go in peace, there is no limit to God’s mercy,’” he told CNA on Aug. 19.
“Not bad if you ask me,” he enthused. “Alleluia!”
Church regulations, known as canon law, require that “certain particularly grave sins” – including cooperation in an abortion – can only be absolved “by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.”
In practice, many bishops in countries such as the United States do authorize priests to forgive such sins, usually after special training. This week Madrid's Archbishop Antonio Rouco Varela has given this authority to all priests attending World Youth Day.
“This is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the archdiocese explained on its website.
Archbishop Dolan said the current canon law showed the Church to be “a wise teacher.”
“And one of the ways she teaches is by sometimes attaching certain penalties to sins that are particularly hideous – abortion would be one of them – so usually abortion is regarded as a ‘restricted’ sin.”
But with pilgrims coming to the diocese for just a brief time, “you don’t want to be in the position of saying ‘hmm, could you come back tomorrow?’”
“No. You don’t want to do that and Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.”
Archbishop Dolan's sentiment is shared by Vicki Thorn, the Milwaukee-based founder of the post-abortion counseling network Project Rachel.
Thorn happens to be in Madrid this week, and told CNA that while abortion “must normally be taken to the bishop before forgiveness is granted,” the process is “untenable at an event such as this.”
It would be “an undue burden to expect a pilgrim to find the same priest before leaving after he has had to make contact with a bishop.”
Thorn, who has counseled women after abortions for 44 years, says the experience of true repentance, followed by sacramental confession and absolution, “is absolutely critical to the healing process.”
A woman who wrongly assumes that she has “committed the unforgiveable sin … needs the grace of confession to heal.”
Thorn also said that the “vast majority” of priests in the United States already have the authority from their bishops, to absolve Catholics who confess their involvement in an abortion.
Abortion sharply divides Spain, as it does most other Western countries. Last month, Spain's Socialist government received parliamentary approval for new laws liberalizing the process, in a country where over 100,000 children already die from abortion each year.