Pope Francis’s hip new take on abortion is anything but

Pope Francis took another step in rebranding the Catholic Church this week when he announced that priests will be allowed to absolve women who have had abortions between December 8th, 2015 and November 20th, 2016 — the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

The Pope has shown a propensity for moderation on social issues, including divorceextramarital sexpriest celibacy and even homosexuality — although his congenial rhetoric isn’t always reflected in Vatican policy. So what should we make of this one year window to claim your spiritual clemency for one of the Church’s most reviled sins?

Not much. As Damon Linker pointed out this morning, Pope Francis’s stance on abortion is still a dark, dark shade of immoral:

According to the church, if I commit adultery, my priest can hear my confession and absolve my sin. If I murder my wife, my priest can hear my confession and absolve my sin. Heck, if I engage in an act of genocide, my priest can hear my confession and absolve my sin.

But if my wife procures an abortion, she incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication, meaning she instantly falls out of communion with the Catholic Church. That precludes her from partaking in the sacraments, including the sacrament of reconciliation, which is the means by which a priest can hear a confession and absolve sins.

That makes abortion worse than every other form of murder, including mass murder.

Pope Francis’s announcement, then, is effectively a declaration that abortion is only as bad as mass murder, and only for slightly less than one year. Outside of that window, women who have abortions go straight to Hell, with the Church happy to give them a push on the way down.

One might think there would be a few other Very Bad Things on the Catholic Church’s list of almost-never-forgivable sins. But while that list does have eight other items, they’re all relatively benign, ranging from apostasy (a cardinal sin in any good monotheism) to heresy to using the Eucharist for sacrilegious purposes — like if a priest were to take the crackers and wine home after Sunday mass and consume them while watching a football game. What’s more, abortion is the only sin on the list that doesn’t exist in direct reference to the Catholic Church and its dogmas. It is the only normally-unforgivable sin that non-Catholics can commit.

None of that makes any moral sense.

So Pope Francis hasn’t earned himself a liberal cookie for giving priests a year-long abortion forgiveness holiday (after all, Pope John Paul II did the same thing). The Catholic Church remains adamant that its doctrines and teachings on the matter haven’t changed.

And those doctrines and teachings are still absurd.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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