Hopes are raised Pope’s jubilee message will raise the profile of confession

A decree by Pope Francis that all priests will be able to absolve those who seek forgiveness after having procured abortions has been welcomed by one of the leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests.

Declaring that “it’s a simple fact that confession is a forgotten sacrament nowadays”, Fr Gerry Alwill, parish priest of Inishmagrath, told The Irish Catholic that he hopes the Pope’s decision will raise the sacrament’s profile.

“Nowadays a lot of people feel that forgiveness is between them and God and they don’t need the intermediary priest,” he said, pointing out that “in my mind and heart I can have a relationship with God, but there’s a lot to be gained from coming along to someone and saying ‘this is me, I’ve made mistakes, and I seek forgiveness’.”

The Pontiff’s decision was expressed in a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichello, President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, addressing several points he felt were important to help the celebration of the coming Holy Year of Mercy be an authentic encounter with God’s mercy.


Describing how many women experience abortion as “an existential and moral ordeal”, Pope Francis said “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision,” and ruled that “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father”.

In canon law, abortion is classed as a grave sin that incurs automatic – or latae sententiae – excommunication. Under normal circumstances it can only be forgiven, and the excommunication revoked, by a bishop or by a priest who has special permission from his bishop. In some countries, bishops delegate this authority to all priests as a matter of course, but for the duration of the Jubilee, starting on December 8, all priests worldwide will have this faculty.

In order to widen access to the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has also ruled that those such as prisoners who cannot undertake a pilgrimage to a ‘Holy Door’ may obtain the offered Indulgence in their prison chapels, and has empowered priests of the Society of St Pius X, who reject many of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, to absolve sins during the Jubilee.