Article: “The Times on Pope Francis and abortion: the worst piece of religious reporting ever?”

Damian Thompson’s article on the foul-ups of the British press’ reporting on Pope Francis’ recent comments is a spot-on bit of common sense.

The popular press can’t be relied upon to tell the time on a digital clock let alone do five minutes of research on Pope Francis’ statements and the reasoning behind them.

The headline on page 33 of today’s Times reads: ‘Repent and we will forgive abortions, Pope tells women’. It’s a bad headline, because the Church already grants absolution to women who repent of their abortions. CNN did much better: ‘Pope Francis says all priests can forgive women who’ve had abortions’. (In fact, the Church teaches that God does the forgiving, but ‘priests can forgive women’ is OK as shorthand.)

That said, headlines aren’t written by reporters, so you’d expect the Times article to set the record straight. On the contrary: Tom Kington, the author, litters his piece with ignorant misrepresentations of Francis’s ruling. When you consider what a sensitive subject this is, and that the Pope’s announcement has implications for a community of more than a billion people, that’s indefensible. …

Vatican: Tom Kington

The Pope has ordered priests to pardon any woman who seeks forgiveness for past abortions as part of plans for his Holy Year starting in December.

No. The Pope can’t ‘order’ any priest to pardon any sin. As his statement makes clear, he is giving all priests the discretion to absolve the sin of abortion (of which more later). That’s how Confession works: priests must make a judgment as to whether the sinner has truly repented. Normally this is taken for granted, but the priest is entitled to withhold absolution and is more likely to do so in the case of serious sins.

His order … will spare women the normal punishment of excommunication if they have had a termination and marks another sign of his compassionate approach to sinners.

More misinformation. Anyone who has had or procured an abortion, unless they did so under duress, is automatically excommunicated – so long as they understood that abortion is a self-excommunicating offence. (Pretty important caveat there.) That hasn’t changed. Likewise, any woman properly absolved of the sin of abortion is no longer excommunicated. The complicating factor is that a priest must have the authority to lift the excommunication as well as forgive the sin. Most priests in the West have this authority, delegated by their bishop. In some dioceses, lifting the excommunication is still ‘reserved’ to the bishop. During the Holy Year, all priests everywhere can exercise the discretion (see above) to lift the excommunication along with absolving the sin.

Read the whole thing.