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The Reality of Restored Papal Authority

Pope Francis Grants All Priests The Authority To Absolve Abortions
Camila Domonoske

Pope Francis has declared that abortion, which remains a "grave sin" in the eyes of the Catholic Church, can be absolved by ordinary priests for the foreseeable future instead of requiring the intervention of a bishop.

The change was implemented on a temporary basis, for one year only, as part of the Catholic Church's "Year of Mercy," which began last December and ended on Sunday.

In a letter released on Monday, the pope announced that the change was being extended indefinitely.

"I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life," the pope wrote in the letter. "In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation."

"Because the Roman Catholic Church holds abortion to be such a serious sin, it had long put the matter of granting forgiveness for it in the hands of a bishop, who could either hear the woman's confession himself or delegate that to a priest who was expert in such situations," The Associated Press explains.

In the U.S., Catholic News Service reports, most bishops have routinely granted the faculty to their priests, but the Year of Mercy made the permission universal.

In the letter released Monday, the pope indicated he was extending the ability to absolve abortions "lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God's forgiveness."

The Pope Commemorates The Reformation That Split Western Christianity.

For all of these reasons and more, the global system is in need of strong leadership independent of the current state sovereign structure and perpetual erosion of liberal democratic governance. The Papacy fits this global public outcry for justice. The concern with the Pope as a moral figure is that while he can speak on behalf of over a billion Catholics and to some extent on behalf of the more than 2 billion Christians worldwide, he is at some difficulty connecting to the other 5 billion individuals that are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist or of the many faiths. Nevertheless, the figurehead of political Christianity can appeal both conservative values and social democratic forms of justice and state charity as well as reach hearts and minds of different faiths by using a more inclusive message.

Christian morality is something to aspire to and can resonate with a few billion more. However, it is for governmental affairs the spirit of liberalism that should find its blessing in the world of politics. The spirit of liberalism addresses not only the values divine universal laws but morality and the advocacy of reason. Where the Papacy can go too far is to intermingle Vatican overreach into sovereign national affairs. Pope Francis himself has stated that he is concerned only with the moral principles in regards to the European immigration crisis.

To the American Congress, the Pope appeared to break his own tongue-tying and supported conservative values and social democratic responsibilities true to his left of center Argentinian leanings. The Republicans heard only the traditional family empowering concepts, religious freedom and dismissed the defense of life at every stage, while the Democrats heard only the cries to social Justice and the end to the death penalty. In the end, Congress exploded in cheers and standing ovations some reporters equated to the State of the Union Addresses of American presidents.

Yet, calls of moral principles from the Vatican are rooted in liberalism of classical European and American founding fathers as universal rights and the path of individual and communal enlightenment. Thus, in truth, the actions of the Pope fall under these principles but are bound and limited by liturgy and religious doctrine as well as the personal leanings of the Popes themselves and the national environments and conditioning they grew up with. They cannot and should not act as the sole global moral arbitrator alone for all peoples.

The necessity of an independent spokesperson for human rights is not about consolidating all the power into one office, but about channeling the issues of international liberal democracy through more powerful independent stations than presently exists. The West and the world desperately need more of this but they can no longer hope to achieve this at the U.N. where Secretary General Ban eagerly awaits a pillar of moral strength to do what he has failed to do on world stage; and while the U.N. can partner with the Pope, they cannot rely on the Pope to do what is by nature of a Protestant or secular institution apart from religious political power.

Nevertheless, the Pope Francis is without question the most powerful Pope in recent history; perhaps more so than Pope John Paul II but it is too early to tell what his impact will be. He is attempting to unite peoples by not condemning the state but by a call to peace and presenting an offering of superior moral pathways they should take as good actors in world politics. His championing of the refugee cause has had a major impact in state leaders worldwide. If the Pope focuses on highlighting a sustained timely issue, he will learn he is much more effective than simple addresses to crowds or legislatures.

The world is ripe for more strongmen of peace and charity to step up on the world stage and the Pope is quickly embracing this expanded role.

As the Two-Way reported last year, when the change for the Year of Mercy was announced, allowing priests to grant absolution for abortion does not constitute a "doctrinal shift" for the church.

"Forgiveness has always been available albeit through more formal channels," Candida R. Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, told NPR at the time. "That message wasn't out there because the rhetoric that accompanies abortion is so elevated that it eclipses the Church's teaching on forgiveness and mercy."

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