Cooperating in abortion is always an impediment to ordination, Pope affirms

Papal ordination of priests 3 in St Peters Basilica on April 26 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA 4 26 15 A Mass of priestly ordination said in St. Peter's Basilica. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Pope Francis has confirmed that the impediments preventing one from being ordained – such as homicide, abortion, or attempted suicide – apply whether or not the man was Catholic at the time the act occurred.

As the law is written, a doubt existed that the "irregularities," as they are called, applied only to those who were Catholic – and thus those who were under the law – at the time they were committed.

Pope Francis affirmed the definitive interpretation, that the law does apply to non-Catholics who have performed the acts, in a meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on May 31. The letter was made public by the Vatican Sept. 15.

The purpose of the law is to provide extra protection to the sanctity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders – in the episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate – Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. He clarified that it is not a punishment for the irregularizing act, but merely an upholding of the dignity of Holy Orders.

Canon 1041 of the Code of Canon Law states that, among others, "any person who has committed voluntary homicide or procured a completed abortion and all those who positively cooperated in either" and "a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously or who has attempted suicide" is "irregular for receiving (holy) orders."

Bishop Arrieta told reporters Thursday that it is possible for a dispensation to be granted by special intervention of the bishop if the person is truly contrite, "but a warning sign remains."

Precaution is required in order to "protect the dignity of the sacrament," he said.

The definitive interpretation is substantiated by a reasoned, rather than overly formalistic reading of the law, Bishop Arrieta said in L'Osservatore Romano.

"A different interpretation" of the canon, he continued, "would lead to propose a discriminatory treatment by applying different rules depending on the condition of whether or not Catholic at the time of the facts."

This would be "particularly paradoxical and unjust, because both Catholics and non-Catholics are equally bound to respect for his own life and that of others, as belonging to the natural order," he said.

Pope Francis also issued changes this week to the Latin code of canon law, with an eye toward clarifying ministry to Eastern Catholics.

The Pope cited concern for harmony between the different codes. The name of the Pope's apostolic letter, De concordia inter Codices, in fact means "Concerning harmony between laws." It is dated May 31 and was released Sept. 15 and concerns topics such as baptism, marriage, and change of ecclesiastical rite.

The Pope said the changes were motivated by the presence of many Eastern Catholics in predominantly Latin Catholic regions.

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