It's no secret that while the current pope wears the typical white robes, he's a pontiff of a different color. He's known for his direct statements about the Church, some of which have made waves with the more conservative Catholics. Pope Francis is once again proving that the Catholic Church is working to change its doctrine. In a letter released by the Vatican this morning, he stated that during the Holy Year of Mercy, beginning on Dec. 8, priests can absolve women for the sin of having an abortion as long as the woman is contrite about her sin.
Prior to this decree, having an abortion was deemed to be a sin so serious that having one meant the woman was to be excommunicated from the Church, and forgiveness could only be obtained by a senior church official.
This is yet another bold statement in a long line of progressive comments from Pope Francis, and it just may be the one that makes all the difference for a number of Catholics who have strayed from the flock in recent years. I say this because I'm one of them.
I'm a confirmed but lapsed Catholic. I attended Catholic school and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for plaid skirts, which has nothing to do with Britney Spears. But as I became an adult and learned about the Catholic Church's arcane and ancient opinions in regards to birth control, reproductive medicine, abortion and homosexuality, it became clear to me that I couldn't proudly call myself a Catholic. Sunday mornings now have me worshiping at the alter of Target or to the Zumba Gods rather than at Mass.
I'm not alone in my decision to do other things on Sundays instead of go to mass as I was raised to do. Although Catholics make up about half of the global Christian population, like me, many Americans who were raised Catholic have disassociated from the Church as adults. It's estimated that one in 10 American adults identifies as a former Catholic, and the Church has lost more American Catholics in recent decades than it's gained from religious conversions.
Although my closet and cholesterol levels thank me for my new Sunday morning hobbies, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the sense of community I felt as a child when I was a member of the Church. Now that I'm a parent, and my kids are getting close to pre-school age, I've struggled with how to introduce them to the concept of morality without the Bible stories I grew up with. I'd love to give them those same life lessons, but have hesitated to do so because there are these social issues the Church has opinions on that I don't want them to learn or believe in.
But this new decree about women who've had abortions, coupled with other more liberal statements made by Pope Francis have given me hope. He's stated that people who've been divorced should not be excommunicated from the church and should be allowed to receive communion. The pontiff has moved away from the strict historical idea that Catholics shouldn't use birth control by calling for responsible family planning. And although I don't agree with his decision not to support gay marriage, he has shown support for the LGBTQA community by stating, "Who am I to judge?" while asked his opinion on homosexuality.
While I don't personally feel that abortion is even a sin, the fact that the decision has been made to grant forgiveness for them is a huge reflection of a religion evolving to serve its people and the realities of the world we live in today. The concept of abortions being forgiven as a type of promotional offer during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy feels a bit like a gimmick (Reconciliation special: Confess three sins for the penance of one! Free rosary with membership!) but it's certainly a giant leap in the right direction.
The Catholic Church still has a long way to go before I can hold my head high and declare myself among its followers, but these more inclusive teachings give me hope.
It's certainly made me start thinking about what my plans are for this Sunday.
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