Most dioceses have had permission to (forgive abortion) that for many, many years — so while it’s a wonderful gesture on behalf of the Holy Father, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference here in Rhode Island.
There are actually a few reasons why it could make a difference.
First, Pope Francis is quite aware of attitudes within the Church, especially coming from hard-core Catholics, that some things are unforgiveable. Certainly, there’s nothing on the books about unforgiveable sins. I wonder if Bishop Tobin polled inactive Rhode Island Catholics about the local priest’s ability to forgive abortion if he would find a difference from his own understanding.
Second, that excommunication thing–something that even many inactive Catholics know about.
Third, the Holy Father is setting an example for bishops. Bishops preach the Gospel and take the message and person of Jesus to the peripheries. They do not assist the Gospel when, as a private person, they emphasize which events they will or won’t attend because they agree or not with others in attendance, and which events people who disagree with them will not attend.
Fourth, I think we actually want more people to come to church and go to confession not just in the Jubilee but from now on. This is a difference that could be happening, and we’d be happy about it, right? Clearly, the scolding approach hasn’t worked wonders.
Fifth, confessors are getting an opportunity for continuing formation, especially if they check Pope Francis’s explanation.
It’s not really that hard.
This blogpost labels it PR. Again, I think of it as continuing formation of clergy–catechesis if you will. Perhaps it is “R” in the sense of relations, or relationship. I might ask why shouldn’t that be made public?
Somehow, I don’t think Pope Francis would mind if an enterprising bishop or pastor made his own announcement this weekend that from henceforth, not only would the sin of abortion be forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, but all other sins. Even things like gossip, disrespect, giving false witness, and–gasp!–blogging in anger. And more, to pick up on the pope’s gesture, it would extend beyond the end of the Jubilee.