The Roman Catholic Church’s recent decision on forgiveness for women who have aborted their babies has drawn a lot of attention, but New York Times columnist Jill Filipovic shows she does not understand the purpose of a church. A church is to worship and honor God, not to advance a political agenda or run a public relations battle.
Filipovic complains that the Roman Catholic Church’s offer of forgiveness “is a softer version of the same judgment: that the millions of women around the world who have abortions every year are sinners.” This is another point where secular pundits fail to understand Christian doctrine generally, for both Protestants and Roman Catholics. If Scripture declares something to be a sin, it is a sin – no matter how many people have committed the sin. Abortion, because an innocent life is terminated, is an especially heinous sin.
It is the role of the church – whether it is a Protestant denomination or the Roman Catholic Church – to shame sinners for their sins. Shame is an essential part of the gospel. We realize how wicked we have been and how much we need the blood of Jesus Christ to cover our sins. We then repent, ask Jesus to forgive us, and we are eternally clothed in His righteousness. A Christian who has committed a sin that is also a crime, of course, should willingly submit to the judgment of the civil magistrate. Repentance and forgiveness do not negate the need for earthly consequences.
That said, the Roman Catholic Church is wrong to automatically excommunicate women who have had abortions, and allowing all priests “to forgive women who have had abortions” is a compounding of that error. Obviously Christians fall into sin, including murder, adultery and other heinous things. Being Christians does not make us immune to sin, although we should become more holy over time as we are sanctified. It is not the act itself that should bring excommunication. It is the sin and a refusal to repent, and especially when one stubbornly continues committing the same sin.
Like it or not, abortion is still easy to obtain in many parts of the country. A woman and her family may decide on abortion in a moment of weakness and then regret it soon after. That person needs the guidance of God and His church at that point more than ever, and automatic excommunication cuts that person off from the very means of grace the church exists to provide. This is itself sin and the Roman Catholic Church should repent of it.