NBC called it “breaking” news:
To which EVERY halfway informed Catholic out there said, “Since when couldn’t priests forgive this?” If there is anything we Catholics know about mercy and forgiveness, it’s that even the really big sins are forgiven. There’s a few hoops to jump through when it comes to abortion, but with a contrite heart, owning up to it to a priest, and the completion of Penance, absolution is freely given. This has been going on forever.
What the real story here is, that this year, in the Year of Mercy, among other indulgences (which are not sold, not matter what anyone says) His Holiness gave priests the authority to lift the latae sententiae excommunication, which we understand to mean excommunication “by the act itself” without going through the formality of the bishop’s office. Normally, excommunication is lifted by the bishop, not the priest. For the case of a formal bull, the big meeting with the bishop and expression of contrition is still in effect (usually in cases of heresy), but for abortion, the lifting can be done at the parish level…which is the way it’s done in practice anyway, so this is really just removing a layer of paper. Ed Morrissey at HotAir explained it this way:
For the next year, though, Pope Francis has given a dispensation to priests to handle that situation within the parish instead. That’s the only real change in this announcement, and it’s only for one year, at least for now. Frankly, it likely works this way in practice anyway, with the priest first hearing about the situation through confession and walking the parishioner through the process afterward. Abortion still creates a latae sententiae excommunication.
So, like a lot of things with this particular pope, this is non-news being whipped up to make the man sound like what he is not. Take for example the charge of Marxism against him that has found a foothold among a lot of American conservatives. Before delving into that, consider this from the fourth chapter of Acts of the Apostles:
 And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them.  And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all.  For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold, And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. – Douay-Rheims Bible
For church-going Catholics this is a familiar passage. We hear it on the Second Sunday of Easter every year. It is the way the religious orders live even to this day. It is communal living in the name of Jesus Christ. When read in a modern political context, yes, it does sound a lot like the rudiments of Marxism, socialism, communism, etc. But for the religious, both lay (nuns, sisters, and orders of brothers fall into this category), and ordained (priesthood) this is their way of life. For the men and women who entered seminary, convents, abbeys, cloisters, etc., straight out of high school, this is all they’ve known. Among Catholics, it is the cause of a lot of head-banging, too. Pastors and nuns who went to college and had a life before going into the orders have a completely different perspective, particularly on finances. They get it. The guys like Pope Francis who have known nothing but communal living as adults, don’t – and they don’t quite understand why everyone doesn’t live this way.
That was where Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were different. They lived through World War II. Life wasn’t always a sheltered rectory for them. Since his teen years, for Francis, it has been.
On top of it, Francis is a Jesuit. In plain language, given the order, that means that he’s smart, a missionary, a servant, AND NOT a bumper-sticker slogan speaker. His words taken as a whole are much more deep than that. Since his election and enthronement, Francis has said a lot of things that have been sliced from speeches and talks that appear to say one thing, and when put back into context, make complete sense in light of Catholic teaching which is very poorly understood world-wide.
Somehow, he’s gotten this reputation of a revolutionary, when in truth the man is a true reformer, systematically cleaning up his own order since they now answer solely to him. He also says Mass ad orientum, or facing the Crucifix which is not a liberal stance by any means. Francis is a Mary man, which was out of favor for a very long time. That sort of thing never gets reported outside Catholic media. The worst of the liberals are now removed from the spotlight except for Cardinal Marx who is stirring up trouble whenever he can. The Jesuits were the poster children for modernization in the Church. Not so much anymore. They’re still different, but getting more conservative by the year.
The current discussion on immigration DOES cause a conflict for a lot of us because the remedies being proposed in the United States to deal with illegals do violate Catholic teaching on hospitality. That doesn’t just mean being humane about capturing illegals and deportation, but welcoming. The problem comes in that many people coming here to simply take what others have, and that is the one thing that Francis doesn’t take into account. And that is our primary concern.
Forget the whole environmental thing. Yes, we are called to be good stewards of the earth, but popes are not infallible on science. He’s listening to the wrong people on this topic. That’s not a sin.
Today’s announcement was really more about the depth of mercy available from God than anything else. In addition to abortion, another mercy related announcement was made. Francis extended an olive branch to the Society of St. Pius X, a schismatic, ultra-traditional splinter group that excommunicated itself with self-described ordinations. Technically, apostolic succession is still intact, so coming back is no big deal. THAT, from a Catholic perspective is the more important action.
So, when it comes to this pope, quit paying attention to the mainstream media. It’s very obvious most of them have no background in Catholic teaching and are cherry picking headlines from his statements. Don’t fall for the sensationalism. Nothing has changed because it can’t. That’s the part of Catholic teaching the world doesn’t want to accept.