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Frequently Asked Questions

As of November 20, 2016...

In an Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis I stated: "Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God's forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion."

Monsignor Rino Fisichella added: "The sin of abortion is inclusive. Thus forgiveness for the sin of abortion is all-inclusive and extends to all those who are participants in this sin."

Pope Francis I declared that the faithful who are attending churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, an ultra-conservative breakaway group, can "validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins." Francis had previously limited that permission only for the period of the Holy Year.

This information applied from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.

Pope Francis temporarily granted the power to all priests to give "sacramental absolution" for abortion during the Holy Year.

This information applied prior to December 8, 2015.

Q. 1. What does the Catholic Church teach about abortion?

A. 1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," [CIC, can. 1398] "by the very commission of the offense," [CIC, can. 1314] and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. [Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324] The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society." (C.C.C. # 2272)

"A person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication." [Code of Canon Law 1398]

Q. 2. What does "formal cooperation in an abortion" means?

A. 2. "Formal cooperation in an abortion" includes all the individuals who had abortions, the abortionists who performed the abortion(s), the nurses and other employees who assisted in abortions, the administrative staff that provided facilities where abortions were performed, all the individuals who recommended/suggested an abortion, the politicians who promoted abortions and/or who voted in favour of them, all the relatives who supported abortions, no matter their excuse for being in favour of it, and even the religious persons who have supported such an act by word or action.

It also includes those who provide financial support, the person who drives the pregnant woman to the abortion clinic, those who manufactured and distributed the pills or other medication that results in an abortion.

There are no exception, either one is in favour of abortions or totally against it.

Q. 3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that those who give "formal cooperation in an abortion" "incurs (an) excommunication latae sententiae." What does that mean?

A. 3. An excommunication that is "latae sententiae" means that it is an automatic excommunication. It does not need a formal decree (an official notice) of excommunication. The person who recommended, supported or was involved in the act of an abortion, has been excommunicated. The penalty of an excommunication was in effect the moment the fault was committed. If a declaration is made by the Church, this is simply to confirm the fact that an excommunication has taken place.

For example, On February 6, 2007, Salzburg Zuxiliary Bishop Andreas Laun caused a stir in the German press by stating that a Catholic businessman who rented space in this shopping mall to an abortion clinic has excommunicated himself. During an interview, Bishop Laun stated, "Because (the person) cooperates in abortions, by letting them happen in his shopping mall, the norm applies to him and he is excommunicated."

The Bishop did not say that he was excommunicating the person. He was confirming that the person had automatically excommunicated himself by his actions.

Using the same reasoning, many persons ask why local Bishops are not excommunicating politicians who support and voted in favour of abortions. The local Bishops do not have to do so because the politicians are already excommunicated by their own actions. They have inccurred a latae sententiae excommunication that does not require an official notice that such has been implemented. If the local Bishops do make a statement on the matter, it is simply to confirm that the excommunication has taken place. As can be appreciated from this fact, thousands of worldwide politicians are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Q. 4. What are the consequences of being excommunicated from the Catholic Church by "latae sententiae."

A. 4. An excommunication is the most severe punishment (sanction) that can be given to a member of the Catholic Church. As long as the individual is under excommunication, he/she is forbidden to participate in the Church Community. He/she is prevented from receiving the Sacraments. He/she cannot participate in public associations affiliated with the Church.

Q. 5. How does one remove an excommunication Latae sententiae so he/she could once more be in good standing with the Catholic Church.

A. 5. In accordance with the Code of Canon Law 1354-1357, such an excommunication can only be lifted by a Bishop in the course of sacramental confession (meaning during the Sacrament of Confession).

Canon Law 1355 1 Provided it is not reserved to the Apostolic See (the Vatican), a penalty which is established by law and has been imposed or declared, can be remitted by the following:

2 Provided it is not reserved to the Apostolic See, a latae sententiae penalty established by law but not yet declared, can be remitted by the Ordinary in respect of his subjects and of those actually in his territory or of those who committed the offence in his territory. Moreover, any Bishop can do this, but only in the course of sacramental confession.

Sometimes, an excommunication Latae sententiae can be temporarily lifted by a priest during confession.

Canon Law 1357 1 Without prejudice to the provisions of cann. 508 and 976, a confessor can in the internal sacramental forum remit a latae sententiae censure of excommunication or interdict which has not been declared, if it is difficult for the penitent to remain in a state of grave sin for the time necessary for the competent Superior to provide.

2 In granting the remission, the confessor is to impose upon the penitent, under pain of again incurring the censure, the obligation to have recourse within one month to the competent Superior or to a priest having the requisite faculty, and to abide by his instructions. In the meantime, the confessor is to impose an appropriate penance and, to the extent demanded, to require reparation of scandal and damage. The recourse, however, may be made even through the confessor, without mention of a name.

The above means that if a person cannot immediately have access to a Bishop in order to have the excommunication lifted, he can temporarily have the excommunication lifted so he/she can receive the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, providing that within one month, that person shall have the excommunication lifted by a Bishop during the Sacrament of Confession. Failure to do so shall mean that the person is once more under the penalty of excommunication.

Q. 6. What about in cases where local priests say they were told they can forgive all sins?

A. 6. According to Canon Law 1354 3 "If the Apostolic See has reserved the remission of a penalty to itself or to others, the reservation is to be strictly interpreted."

This means that in accordance with the Canon Law, certain excommunications can only be lifted by the Vatican and by no one else. No one can change that rule, the Canon Law.

An abortion triggers an excommunication latae sententiae, meaning automatic. The local Bishop can delegate that authority to their priest. It involves the power to first lift excommunications related to the abortion and secondly to forgive the mortal sin, providing the individual is sincerely repentent. In simple words, to be able to forgive the sin of abortion, a priest needs a special permission from his bishop. In many American dioceses prelates over the years have done so with regard to abortion. Contact the Diocesan Office of the Bishop to find out if this applies in your Diocese.

Q. 7. Is it possible for a person to have an abortion and not be excommunicated? What I mean is, are there any exceptions?

A. 7. The following Canon Laws 1321 - 1325 provide specific details about cases where an excommunication did not take place:


Can. 1321 1 No one can be punished for the commission of an external violation of a law or precept unless it is gravely imputable by reason of malice or of culpability.

Can. 1321 2 A person who deliberately violated a law or precept is bound by the penalty prescribed in that law or precept. If, however, the violation was due to the omission of due diligence, the person is not punished unless the law or precept provides otherwise.

Can. 1321 3 Where there has been an external violation, imputability is presumed, unless it appears otherwise.

Can. 1322 Those who habitually lack the use of reason, even though they appeared sane when they violated a law or precept, are deemed incapable of committing an offence.

Can. 1323 No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept:

Can. 1323 1 has not completed the sixteenth year of age;

Can. 1323 2 was, without fault, ignorant of violating the law or precept; inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance;

Can. 1323 3 acted under physical force, or under the impetus of a chance occurrence which the person could not foresee or if foreseen could not avoid;

Can. 1323 4 acted under the compulsion of grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless, however, the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls;

Can. 1323 5 acted, within the limits of due moderation,* in lawful self-defense or defense of another against an unjust aggressor;

Can. 1323 6 lacked the use of reason, without prejudice to the provisions of cann. 1324, 1, n. 2 and 1325;

Can. 1323 7 thought, through no personal fault, that some one of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5.

Can. 1324 1 The perpetrator of a violation is not exempted from penalty, but the penalty prescribed in the law or precept must be diminished, or a penance substituted in its place, if the offence was committed by:

Can. 1324 1 1 one who had only an imperfect use of reason;

Can. 1324 1 2 one who was lacking the use of reason because of culpable drunkenness or other mental disturbance of a similar kind;

Can. 1324 1 3 one who acted in the heat of passion which, while serious, nevertheless did not precede or hinder all mental deliberation and consent of the will, provided that the passion itself had not been deliberately stimulated or nourished;

Can. 1324 1 4 a minor who has completed the sixteenth year of age; (Can. 97 1 - Age 17 up to 19th anniversary of conception / birthday.)

Can. 1324 1 5 one who was compelled by grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, if the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls;

Can. 1324 1 6 one who acted in lawful self-defense or defense of another against an unjust aggressor, but did not observe due moderation; *

Can. 1324 1 7 one who acted against another person who was gravely and unjustly provocative;

Can. 1324 1 8 one who erroneously, but culpably, thought that some one of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in can. 1323, nn. 4 or 5;

Can. 1324 1 9 one who through no personal fault was unaware that a penalty was attached to the law or precept;

Can. 1324 1 10 one who acted without full imputability, provided it remained grave.

Can. 1324 2 A judge can do the same if there is any other circumstance present which would reduce the gravity of the offence.

Can. 1324 3 In the circumstances mentioned in 1, the offender is not bound by a latae sententiae penalty.

Can. 1325 Ignorance which is crass or supine or affected can never be taken into account when applying the provisions of cann. 1323 and 1324. Likewise, drunkenness or other mental disturbances cannot be taken into account if these have been deliberately sought so as to commit the offence or to excuse it; nor can passion which has been deliberately stimulated or nourished.

Q. 8. How do I know if the pastor of my parish or if any priest in my Diocese has been given by the Bishop the faculty to lift an excommunication?

A. 8. You do not know. I have never seen a Diocese advertise which priest has been given the faculty to lift an excommunication. Most likely the reason why it is not advertised is because it would make it too easy for repeated sinners to get an abortion and then go to that priest and ask to have the excommunication lifted. Many do not like the ideal of having to go to the Bishop to be absolved of the excommunication.

While most priest, at least in North America, claim to all the faculty to absolve sinners from all sins, that does not mean that they have been given the faculty to absolve from an excommunication. These are two different matters.

In conclusion, I quote from a blog: "In the United States, most if not all bishops have delegated to all their priests the authority to lift the excommunication for abortion. Bishops can do this. That is why if you live in the U.S. you have never heard of "special permission" being given to forgive abortions, because priests already have the authority to lift these excommunications (and they always have the authority to forgive the sin itself). In Spain, apparently, the bishops have not delegated this power, so under normal circumstances the lifting of the excommunication must proceed under the normal system."

In Spain and possibly in many other countries, as mentioned on this webpage, to have one's excommunication lifted, one must go to the local Bishop. The priests were not given the faculty to lift an excommunication.

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