The Pope and Abortion

For the next year, the pope will permit priests to offer forgiveness to women who have had abortions during a year of jubilee.

This is not a completely radical change. Certain confessors could already offer absolution. But this does signify a different sort of approach, one Pope Francis has been known for, prioritizing the pastoral to the doctrinal. It also lifts the other crucial part of Catholicism: the virtue of staying connected.

I’m not sure how many Catholics women will take advantage of this option: as Catholics for Choice remarked, Catholic women have been making alternative arrangements for some years now. After all, in some historically catholic countries, women do get abortions.

One may believe abortion is morally repugnant but should be safe and legal. A Catholic in a secular nation state might fall into such category (as might black Jewish, philosophers in the preceding link). I think such a view, while apparently contradictory, is practical and realistic. I am not of that school, but that is where I seek some mutual understanding with more devout Catholic or others who find the procedure itself signals something, in our culture at least, is wrong.

Unlike the liberal tradition, the Catholic one does not elevate choice as the highest moral good. Instead, in its deeply communitarian ethos, it understands persons as relational. It comes to it’s anti-abortion position not as the evangelcals do, but because the fundamental moral unit is never just a single person.

It is not a view that is particularly appealing in this age.

But it explains why the church holds both views that are anti-commerce and anti-abortion. Bodies, and their lives, should not be abandoned or sold, and abortion is one choice along many others that diminishes our shared life. They note also, that being pro-choice does not make one a feminist: patriarchy itself can elevate the abortion of fetuses, especially those of girls. That said, although these are arguments can sharpen the issues, in our broken world such decisions must remain medical decisions that women make with their doctors.

The pope’s move should be understood not as a change in the church’s view toward abortion, but a clarification of a pastor’s role. In this way it seems very Anglican. The benefit is that it seeks to diminish the shame and acknowledge the reality of women who make such choices.

This instruction should not, of course, be anything new to Anglicans. Our theology already tends to arise from the pastoral, the practical, and the liturgical. We can give thanks that the Pope has decided to take a cue from the Anglican playbook.