Church extends authority to absolve sin of abortion for papal visit
August 18th, 2011
02:13 PM ET

Church extends authority to absolve sin of abortion for papal visit

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - The Vatican has given authority to priests who are in Madrid during the pope’s visit there to give absolution to women who confess to having had an abortion - and has empowered priests to lift excommunications for such women.

Typically, only certain priests have the power to grant absolution for the sin of abortion and to lift excommunications that have resulted from terminated pregnancies, according to a Vatican spokesman.

“All the priests that are administering the sacrament of confession during World Youth Day have the general authority to give absolution from the penalty of excommunication for abortion if someone comes to confession… if someone has this need,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN on Thursday, referring to the event that brought Pope Benedict XVI to Madrid on Thursday for a four-day visit.

Madrid Archbishop Antonio María Rouco Varela announced the extension of such authority to more priests in a statement on the archdiocese's website, saying the move was made in hopes that "all of the faithful who attend the celebrations of the 26th World Youth Day in Madrid can more easily attain the fruits of divine grace, that the doors to a new life open for them."

The church has set up 200 confessional booths in a Madrid park for priests to hear confessions in.

Varela said the Roman Catholic Church “has conferred to all the priests legitimately approved to hear sacramental confessions, who are in the archdiocese of Madrid during August 15 to 22, the delegated power to remit during the sacrament of penance the excommunication… corresponding to the sin abortion, to the faithful who are truly sorry, imposing at the same time a convenient penance.”

Benedict’s Spain visit coincides with a weeklong series of religious events that the Roman Catholic Church organizes every three years.

Lombardi said that the Vatican often extends authority to absolve certain sins and to lift excommunications at big papal events. Any woman who knows that the church considers abortion a sin and goes through with the procedure is automatically excommunicated, Lombardi said.

"This is not only for women," Lombardi said. "If a man has given the pressure on the women to do an abortion then he's guilty in the same way."
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Spain said that the extension of priestly authority around abortion applies only to priests who are in the Madrid archdiocese for World Youth Day festivities.

On Thursday the pope was greeted by a large crowd of followers, including youths from all over the world, but his visit was not without controversy. With Spain suffering a deep economic crisis and nearly 21% unemployment, the amount that the pope's visit is costing the country has been top news in recent days.

The pope arrived in Madrid as protests took place in the city over that cost. The economic crisis has previously sparked protests in the country.

- CNN's Al Goodman and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Abortion • Catholic Church • Spain

soundoff (1,031 Responses)
  1. John


    August 20, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  2. The Lambly Winged Lion of The Gods Does Roar

    Faith typed upon stating, "The Christian Church has been totally wonderful all over the world. It has been the only force that has taught the truth, fed, healed, educated, rescued and protected everyone in this world."

    Christendom has tokenly taken a "smitten" of their "inseedments" to do that which you profess Oh of Faith you who call yourself Faith. This worldly economics hundrances have leavened heavily upon most Christendom's desires to do what you profess and I do find it somewhat a heart felt sense of optimism upon your salutations of rughteousness in your proclaing the goodness of Christendom Of Faith who does have such! 🙂

    August 20, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  3. Faith

    The Christian Church has been totally wonderful all over the world. It has been the only force that has taught the truth, fed, healed, educated, rescued and protected everyone in this world.

    August 20, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      DELUSIONAL! No church has ever been the ONLY force to feed the world. You suppose everyone in the world's history who ever grew (or otherwise killed, poached, stole, etc) food, did so at the behest of the Christian Church? HA HA!

      taught the truth? educated?
      What truth? Your version or mine?

      Everyone who has ever contributed to the advancement or practice of medicine was most assuredly NOT doing it because the Christian Church endorsed it.

      rescued and protected?
      Like when they did that old Inquisition where they tortured and killed people that wouldn't agree to submit to their view? LIke when they went out Crusading, killing themselves and many others in the process? And rescued from WHAT?

      I seriously hope you see that your statement is almost completely incorrect.

      August 20, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  4. Reality

    Enda-ngered spe-cies in any form to include their eggs and emb-ryos are protected by the force of law. How tragic that we do not extend the same protection to our own spe-cies!!! (hyphens added to defeat this blog's secret word filter)

    August 20, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    Matthew 16: 18 or is the pope St. Peter’s successor???

    Matthew 16: 18:

    "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

    Ecclesiastical history probably doesn’t know any other verse, that has been misinterpreted so often like the above verse.

    The pope reasons his supremacy mainly by the above verse.

    Interpretation, refusing papacy:

    Reading some previous verses of Matth. 16: 18, we note that Jesus just had asked his disciples, what they would think, who he would be. There, St. Peter shoot ahead, and said: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God!”

    Jesus rejoiced over the insight of Peter and the other disciples, obviously God had started a work in them.

    The whole content of the gospels shows us that the disciples could indeed imagine to rule together with Jesus soon, therefore Jesus had to take Peter down a peg a little, after Peter had acclaimed Jesus as Christ (the King).

    Of course, it was right, Jesus from Nazareth was the Christ, the eternal Son of God and King of Israel, but Jesus’ time of rule had not yet come at all. God had prescribed that first Jesus had to suffer and to be rejected.

    Still, when Jesus was detained, Peter wanted to fight, using a sword. He indeed could not understand that Jesus didn’t fight back against the soldiers of the High Priests. Should the rightful King of Israel be conducted away like a mean criminal? At that time Peter was not able to understand this. The decision of God that Jesus had to be turned in, in order to suffer and to die, was hidden for the disciples up to that time.

    Let us return to Mattew 16: 18. What wanted Jesus to say be the words of this verse? The following: “Peter you are Peter (with all your dreams of earthly rule), but my Church I (the Father) will build on the low (self-humilated) and humble Jesus.

    This Jesus lowered himself down to the death on the cross, where he has borne the sins of the whole mankind. God brings about faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit. God builds his Church on Jesus, by causing faith in him on people.

    Seemingly, Jesus has foreseen that his Church will be continuously tempted to reach out for rule. However, Jesus doesn’t allow his Church to rule. To the contrary, the Church has to share the destiny of her Lord, that means, she has to suffer and to be rejected like her Lord.

    Matthew 16: 24-26:

    24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

    25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

    26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

    So, the correct interpretation of Matthew 16: 18 is contrary to the Roman Catholic interpretation of this verse. Matthew 16: 18 doesn’t reason the papacy, but rejects it: God doesn’t want a ruling church, but a suffering and low and rejected Church.

    What is the pope actually?

    He is the successor of the carnal desires (longing for rule) of St. Peter. Up to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion Peter and the other disciples had not yet understood that “Christ shall suffer”. They indeed hoped to rule together with him over the earthly state of Israel.

    Latest since Pentecost our Peter is a transformed Peter. At Pentecost the disciples received the Holy Spirit, which teached them about the true character of Christ: On earth the Church has to share Christ’s destiny to be rejected and to suffer up to Judgement Day. Of course Christ has returned to heaven and is ruler of the universe, but despite he feels the pains of his congregation. The congregation is his body in a real sense.

    The pope has a right to say: “I am the successor of St. Peter!”, but he should be aware that in fact he is the successor of Peter’s carnal desires.

    Pope, we tell you!: “You are Joseph Ratzinger, but on those rock God will build his Church!”

    I use the Power of the Keys: “Mr. Ratzinger as long as you claim, you would be the head of the Church, your sins are kept, and you are outcast from the Christian Church!”

    August 20, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  6. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Come on, Benny, wouldn't you rather be burning heretics at the stake? What about some good old torture to accompany your corporation's eternal accusation of mankind, the hopeless "sinners"....as if there were such a thing as sin? So the old Inquisition doesn't stir some dark passion in your soul, huh? You don't long for the old days, you Hitler youth, you? Wouldn't want to begin a new Crusade or anything would you?

    August 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  7. morris2196

    This is absurd. Only God can grant forgiveness of sin. We can appeal to Him directly through prayer, and He is always available.

    August 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • i wonder


      Of course it is absurd... as is talking to yourself and thinking that it is "God".

      August 19, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      Which god? There are so many gods invented by mankind that I kind of lost track.

      August 20, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  8. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Next you'll be saying that people don't have to wait, or don't have to actually be in Madrid on World Youth Day....that in fact they can get absolution ANY TIME as long as they pay you money..... Oh wait, you already have that......INDULGENCES FOR SALE!!!

    August 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  9. ReligionIs4Dolts

    This is utterly absurd.Who the h&ll believes in this phony crap?! Oh so, because pope Ratzy says so, now the priests in Madrid during the pope's visit, on World Youth Day 2011, get this new magical power? HA HA HA! So let me understand this.....you are saying your priests actually have new power from 12:00:00.000 AM to 11:59:59.999 PM on World Youth Day? HA HA HA HA! Go ahead, pull the other one! And this magical power then disappears after this completely arbitrary time window? HA HA HA HA!!!!

    August 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Lena

    "People need to understand the churches viewpoint is that each and every single human being is sacred."
    It is their right to have that viewpoint. But as a former Catholic who is NOT going back, I say they need to recognize that not everyone agrees with them and leave the rest of us alone. They have no more right to force their ways or beliefs on me than the young earth creationists have to force theirs on our public school children.

    August 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Sorry to hear that. Evidently you were not taught about The Real Presence or were and don't believe it. Try reading The Gospel of St.John 6:66-69, or the whole book for that matter to put it in context. If you believed to begin with nothing could tear you away.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Nicky

      That was well-said. There are definitely many cases where religions try to force their opinions on others, but I think the case of abortion is unique in that it may or may not affect/harm another person. If a person believes that life starts at conception, then abortion is murder and wrong; if a person doesn't believe that life starts at conception, then abortion isn't wrong. It's all about whether or not a person believes that abortion harms another person, and is thus, wrong. Because the issue of abortion draws clear rights and wrongs, there needs to be some sort of legal standing–does abortion violate the law or not? (I'm not arguing either side, just stating that an agreement needs to be made). In the meantime, to each his own conscience.

      However, a Catholic woman who is excommunicated, because she had an abortion is not someone is being forced to accept another's beliefs; rather she herself, as a Catholic chose to believe what she does, and in having an abortion, she knowingly goes against her own conscience and commits a sin.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  11. NYRCatholic

    I was raised Catholic left the church and just recently came back. People need to understand the churches viewpoint is that each and every single human being is sacred. I cant agree 100 percent more. All humans are sacred and we all deserve a chance at a life.

    August 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  12. MakesSense

    As a Catholic a liberal pro choice one by the way. I believe women need to have a choice when it come sto having an abortion but I dont like abortion I just feel the government shouldnt tell someone what to do with their body

    August 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Keith

      Government wouldn't have to tell you what to do if your mother wasn't trying to kill you.

      August 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      That is what Free Will is all about. We have to choose to follow God's Commandments. There is supposed to be a separation between the Church and the State but the State crosses that line whenever it suits them. Let the Church cross that line, however, and watch the people howl. I hope the State regrets getting into this issue. It would cost them a lot less if the Supreme Court stayed out of the Legislation business.

      August 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  13. HumanFlesh

    I think all abortion procedures should use holy water. That way we could be extra safe by terminating both the unborn and the undead.

    August 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • JJ

      Love it! Great idea.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Dominck

      Haha, that was funny. It's relieving to see some sarcastic humor once in awhile against people who so vehemently argue their opinions.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  14. JDJ

    No man has the power to forgive sin against God, or order penance for such sin.

    August 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Biblical evidence (John 20:21-23) to the contrary, or did your church delete that book? We still have a copy of the original if you need to see it.

      August 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      SouthernCelt: Original? Are you sure?

      August 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • TruthPrevails


      Biblical evidence is no more evidence than the stories told in Grimms Fairy Tales

      August 20, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  15. MashaSobaka

    I am so grateful that the opinions of the Catholic Church do not concern me. Now if I could just convince the rest of the world to join me in that….

    August 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  16. Reality

    Said absolution will not erase the significant sin of stupidity as a great percentage of abortions are the result of not taking the Pill daily as spelled out in large letters on the package and/or not using a condom.

    Back to basics of pregnancy and STD prevention:

    The numbers, the calculations and a "bottom liner":

    "Facts on Contraceptive Use

    January 2008


    • 62 million U.S. women (and men?) are in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]
    • 43 million women (and men) of reproductive age, or 7 in 10, are se-xually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a contraceptive method.[2]
    • The typical U.S. woman (man?) wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she (he?) must use contraceptives for roughly 3 decades.[3]


    • Virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have ever had inte-rcourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[2](and men?)
    • Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using one.[2] (and men)
    • 31% of the 62 million women (and men?) do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had inter-course; or are not s-exually active.[2]
    • Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but are not using contraceptives.[2] (and men?)
    • Among the 42 million fertile, s-exually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.[2] (and men?)


    • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice contraception use reversible methods, such as oral contraceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]


    Percentage of women (men?) experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)
    Metho Typical
    Pill (combined) 8.7
    Tubal sterilization 0.7
    Male condom 17.4
    Vasectomy 0.2
    Periodic abstinence 25.3
    Calendar 9.0
    Ovulation Method 3.0
    Sympto-thermal 2.0
    Post-ovulation 1.0
    No method 85.0"
    (Abstinence) 0
    (Masturbation) 0

    More facts about contraceptives from


    Contraceptive method use among U.S. women who practice contraception, 2002
    Method No. of users (in 000s) % of users

    Pill ................11,661 .........30.6
    Male condom 6,841 .........18.0 "

    The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).
    i.e. 0.087 (failure rate)

    x 62 million (# child bearing women)
    x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
    x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =
    1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies
    during the first year of pill use.

    For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level)
    1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

    The Guttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
    (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).
    o Bottom Line: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.


    August 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  17. gerald

    One dead, one wounded.

    August 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Jake

      You should have been aborted.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nonsense. The day there's a death certificate issued, or a life insurance payment made, or a funeral service held for a fetus is the day that a fetus is equal to a born human.

      No sale.

      August 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Reality

      Endangered species in any form to include their eggs, embryos are protected by the force of law. How tragic that we do not extend the same protection to our own species!!!

      August 20, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Reality

      Endangered spe-cies in any form to include their eggs, embryos are protected by the force of law. How tragic that we do not extend the same protection to our own spe-cies!!!

      August 20, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  18. Teach em

    Absitinence not Abortion!

    If all religious leaders teach this from the pulpit and give it the importance, then we can reduce so many ills plaguing society today.

    August 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      People should be free to do as they wish with their body. The churches definition of life has no bearing.

      August 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Teach em

      ATCS, u r right as long as you don't do harm to anyone else. Unfortunately, that is not the case you may treat your body any way you want, but stop and think..how much harm this causes...to yourself and others, think for yourself...

      Hope all religious leaders will lead their congregation with this message
      Abstinence NOT Abortion!

      August 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • gerald

      Ya ACTS everybody do what they want and get STDs, Aids, pregnant out of wedlock, children without fathers in the home, abortions, divorce from husbands cheating on wives and vice versa, etc. etc. All this freedom is making things so good in this country isn't it. Live it up folks.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • cpfcpf

      My church youth group taught abstinence in a very straightforward and informative manner. Several girls still got pregnant because let's face it – you can't teach away hormones.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • John

      Absitinence is dumb and useless to teach.

      August 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Teach em: Abstinence education does not work. Comprehensive se-x ed is what we need. And abortion must remain safe and legal because people are going to have se_x, going to have unexpected pregnancies, and going to want to abort them. Abstinence-only ignores reality.
      BTW I'm not sure what the "this" is you're talking about. But safe, responsible, consentual se-x practices hurt no one.
      @gerald: How much less freedom do you think will solve all those issues? Should we just ban s-ex altogether? Or do you want to start discussing the topic realistically?

      August 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      There's that pesky 'Free Will' clause again :-). We have to choose to love God and His Laws, it is not imposed on us. The Church has been teaching the same thing since its beginning, and look at the people that still don't accept it.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • i wonder

      Southern Celt: "We have to choose to love God and His Laws, it is not imposed on us."

      What exactly is optional (free will) about "Believe this or burn forever"?!

      August 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      i wonder:
      Forcing us to love Him would be kind of hollow so He gave us the right to choose to follow him. The Saints tell us that Jesus will chase a soul all the way to the gates of Hell and beg it to turn around. You have to choose to burn.

      August 19, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • i wonder

      Southern Celt,

      –"Follow me or burn" is NOT giving one a choice, unless one is suicidal.

      - The 'Saints' (deceased people) *tell* you things - oh my?!

      August 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      SouthernCelt: Please explain why Paul is saying here that there really is no need to spread any gospel to the goyim?
      Romans 2:14-15
      14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Teaching abstinence has proven time and time again not to work. It's a woman's body, it's a woman's choice and while personally I would not have considered an abortion I do believe the choice is not for anyone else to make. This world is overpopulated as is with unwanted; poverty stricken children...why not teach proper birth control?

      August 20, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Haime52

      Abstience is the way to go, no doubt. Absolutely correct. Why it does not work is a manifold process of society, media and peer pressure. Media and society tells youth and adults, that if you like someone, you should jump into bed. after all, it's fun and there's no harm indoing what is fun, it feels good and if it doesn't , you did it wrong or not enough, so keep on doing it until you get it right. Peers won't admit ot being a virgin because being good is bad and being bad is good. Again, the media tells us all this.

      August 20, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  19. annasmum

    They seem to have forgotten (or missed that part in the Bible) where we are supposed to forgive EVERYONE no matter what the sin is. Does it make the sin ok? NO. But we can still love the sinner, we just don't love the sin.

    August 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • gerald

      Your statement is not reflective of Catholic forgiveness of abortion. A woman can always be forgiven of this sin but in most cases she needs to go to a Bishop or priest who has been granted authority to lift the excommunication is all. If your missing where Jesus gave the power to fogive sins to the clergy check out John 20:21-23. "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, whose sin you hold bound they are held bound". Note that it is possible that a sin not be forgiven. This happens when the person is deemed not to be repentant.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  20. brad

    Just as a woman's supposed right to "her own body" is between herself and the doctor eager for the money, a woman's need for forgiveness is between herself and God. The Church helps to arrange this. When a woman is pregnant and desperate, the church offers Project Gabriel to help feed, clothe, and care for her. What goes on between a woman's soul and God is not the business of anyone, particularly those "enlightened" ones blinded in their own glory. I suggest that instead of laughing at the Catholic church, laugh at the organization whose initials are PP. By now they must be wondering "why, oh why, did we organize the elimination of over 50 million potential taxpayers. Now THAT'S comical.

    August 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Frogist

      @brad: Yes, let's laugh at Planned Parenthood that provides cheap or free healthcare to women in need while we try to defund them so women are left without breast exams, and yearly checkups in a country where the idea of having comprehensive healthcare for every man, woman and child is considered an evil encroachment on freedom. Where the argument against free birth control is that women's healthcare is just some frivolous luxury like a pedicure and having babies ain't that bad anyway. Yeah, I don't know, the idea of some poor woman dying of cancer or a back alley abortion because the care she got from Planned Parenthood isn't available anymore isn't really funny to me.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.