This week the news media is riveted by the visit of Pope Francis to the United States and other Western Hemisphere countries. Even the President and the White House rolled out the red carpet for the world leader of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). That’s okay I suppose if we understand the Pope to be a visiting head of state (the Vatican) and not just a religious leader.
I do think it is a bit disrespectful of the President to invite people who make a mockery of Catholic and Christian teaching (egs. the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, a leader for transgender rights, a gay Catholic blogger and a prominent nun-lobbyist who advocates Obamacare funding abortions.)
In any case, on September 1st the Pope was reported to have announced that Catholic priests are now authorized to absolve (pardon) women who have had abortions (at least temporarily). Abortion is a considered a mortal sin according to RCC law. That is a sin that results in immediate excommunication from the church and disqualifies one from heaven. Other grave sins like that include idolatry, apostasy, murder, homosexuality, adultery, and others.
Now this announcement, I think, is a positive action. Surely women who have committed a terrible sin like abortion (and yes, I do regard it as a terrible sin) should know they can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God. As an evangelical Christian, I respect the Pope. However, I have a serious problem with the notion that the RCC, or any other human ecclesiastical institution, possesses the authority to decide who can or cannot have their sins forgiven. That authority rests only with God.
The Bible teaches that we can all go directly to God with repentance and ask Him to forgive our trespasses no matter how big or little they may seem. The authority and basis for our assurance is found in none-other than Jesus Christ who died on the cross as an atonement for all our sins and rose from the dead to claim victory over them. We receive God’s forgiveness (absolution), not by appealing to an earthly representative for Christ, but by appealing directly to Christ Himself. That is accomplished by repentance of sin and putting our full faith in the what Jesus has done for us. In other words, we are saved by grace through faith (Romans 3: 21-26); Ephesians 2: 8,9).
It is always our hope that women will make the choice not to abort. Nonetheless, any woman who has made the awful choice to end a pregnancy for whatever reason is always able and welcome to seek the Lord’s grace knowing He is faithful to forgive (Romans 8:1; John 1:9). Sadly, millions of women (and men, too, who encouraged them) in America live with the guilt of having had abortions at some point in their lives. As Christians we need to let them know of God’s unconditional love and how they can receive it freely by trusting in Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord.