TORONTO, ON Aug. 23, 2011 – World Youth Day in Madrid did not attract a great deal of media coverage and what there was tended to focus on a small protest rather than on the large number of pilgrims. Concerns about costs were reported deadpan, despite the easily available facts that sponsors were covering the expenses and that, given the money the pilgrims would bring in, the net benefit was likely to be in the neighbourhood of $72 million in costs and $142 million in benefits.

More problematic, however, was the report by several wire services that priests hearing confessions at the event had been given special permission by the archbishop of Madrid to “lift” excommunications incurred by penitents who confessed abortions. While these reports were not inaccurate, the potential for misunderstanding was great enough that the League asked Father Tom Lynch, pastor in the Peterborough Diocese and professor of theology, for some clarification.

“To incur an excommunication (for having an abortion), a woman has to be over 18 and free of fear, non-coerced and know what she is doing. I have spoken to well over 100 post-abortion women and never found anyone free of fear or non-coerced and even full knowledge is often lacking. Because of the severity of the action of killing a child, it is held that excommunication would be automatic if those conditions were met. The sin, if any, arises from the degree of responsibility. I have heard almost all of them speak about being almost “robots” as they come up to and go through the procedure. This seems to strongly mitigate any responsibility and therefore sin and the possibility of excommunication.

“Normally, a priest has the power to hear confessions about anything in the entire world (its called “jurisdiction”) unless a) his bishop or superior has restricted him – anywhere in the world or b)  the local bishop has restricted or forbidden him within that ordinary’s diocese. I think two things are at play here.

“(Chances are) the ordinary of Madrid wanted to be sure that all priests who came for the WYD know that they can lift the possible excommunication of abortion. The WYD can be powerful occasions of repentance and grace. Also, he may want to make a political statement about the awful and stark reality of abortion as the killing of the preborn.”

Interesting articles:
Archbishop: New York Times, CNN, MSNBC can’t be trusted on abortion, faith, LifeSite News, August 24.
Giving the young something to believe in, Father Raymond De Souza, National Post, August 25.