Absolving the Sin of Abortion

Absolving the Deadly Sin of Abortion after the year 2000

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I will take this opportunity to ask you a question: After the Jubilee year, is any priest capable of forgiving the sin of abortion, or does it remain that only a bishop or special priest can do so? Please clarify this doubt for me.


Conditions for Incurring Excommunication

In order to answer your question, I should make some clarifications since it involves the canonical penalty of excommunication. The Code of Canon Law issues the penalty of excommunication “latae sententiae” (that is, “automatically”) for abortion in cases that meet the following conditions1: 1. Being of legal age (18 years old for the “latae sententiae” penalty to apply, and if over 16 and under 18 can be excommunicated but with a “ferendae sententiae” penalty); 2. having knowledge that it is a grave sin; 3. having knowledge that such an ecclesiastical penalty exists; 4. that the act is performed with the fullness proper to a human act (that is, not in a state of involuntary drunkenness or another cause that diminishes the voluntariness of the human act); 5. finally, when the abortion has not only been attempted but has actually occurred (“effectu secuto”).

Conditions for Incurring Excommunication

When these conditions are met, they incur excommunication: 1. who procure the abortion (the mother, the doctor, the midwife); 2.  who cooperate  in inducing it (the husband, the boyfriend, those who advised to do it); 3. who cooperate in the surgical procedure (nurses); 4. and all those “without whose work the crime would not have been committed”2 (for example, the directors of the hospital that provide the facilities for this type of act).

When these conditions are not met, the person commits a very serious sin (in fact, it is a “qualified” homicide, since it is the murder of a defenseless human being), but the penalty of excommunication is not incurred. Hence, there are two possible cases in sacramental confession.

Cases in Sacramental Confession

The first is when the person who has come to confess has had an abortion or has helped with an abortion but has not incurred an excommunication (because the conditions indicated were not met). In such a case, any priest with ordinary faculties has the capacity to absolve the sin committed within a sacramental confession.

The second case is when an excommunicated person comes to confess. Here we should likewise distinguish two possibilities:


Ordinarily only the bishop or the priests delegated by him can absolve the excommunication brought on by the sin of abortion. This varies in each diocese: in some all the priests have this faculty, in others only parish priests, in others only some priests determined by the bishop.


When the penitent finds themselves in an “urgent situation” (also called an “urgent case”) in which they cannot wait to look for a priest with the faculties to absolve them of this censure, any priest with faculties to hear confessions (even if he does not have the delegation to absolve censures) can absolve this censure of abortion in this specific case and only in this case (due precisely to the urgency of it), but an obligation remains to carry out a procedure afterward called an “appeal” (this can be done by the penitent or by the priest if the penitent asks him), remaining obliged do it—at least start it—within the month counting from the day of the absolution (under penalty of recurring the censure if this is not done because of laziness or something similar). The appeal is made to someone who has this faculty “ordinarily” (who already is a delegated confessor ordinarily, or the bishop, or the Holy See). Every confessor is obligated to know how to carry out this procedure.

Fr. Miguel A. Fuentes, IVE


Miguel Ángel Fuentes, Revestíos de entrañas de Misericordia. Manual de preparación para el ministerio de la penitencia, IVE, San Rafael 2007.

[1] Cf. Code of Canon Law, c. 1398.

[2] Code of Canon Law, c.1329, 2.

Original Post: here
Other Post: Is it lawful to remain silent about abortion?

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