© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

During Holy Year, Priests Permitted To Forgive Women Who Had Abortions


We're starting this hour with reaction to the announcement by Pope Francis that priests may forgive Catholic women who've had abortions. Traditionally, getting an abortion can get a woman excommunicated from the church. In the U.S., many priests already do offer absolution, but this broader policy coming down from the Vatican itself is temporary. It's part of a holy year of mercy that starts in December. Here's NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In downtown Washington, D.C., 24-year-old Emily Moschetto made time for noon mass on her lunch break. Afterward, even though she is strongly against abortion, Moschetto said she wasn't completely surprised by the pope's letter. After all, she said, God is all forgiving.

EMILY MOSCHETTO: God accepts you and, like, sees you as you are despite what you've done, and humans are critical, but, like, that's not how God is.

KATHIE AMIDEI: You know, as a woman in the Catholic church, I'm happy for anything that is helpful to women.

LUDDEN: Kathie Amidei is a pastoral associate at St. Anthony on the Lake church outside Milwaukee.

AMIDEI: Maybe the church will learn that we bring more people to Christ by doing this in this one year. And maybe this'll be something that they say this is the way we should move permanently in the future. That would be my hope. I would see this as a wonderful step in the right direction.

LUDDEN: But not everyone who approves of the letter would want that.

MARIA TURCIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

LUDDEN: Maria Turcios of Philadelphia says the pope's letter on abortion is excellent. She's a mother of six originally from Honduras. This pope, she says, knows our roots. He can identify with the poor and the lowest things that humans do. But for Turcios, one year of mercy on abortion is enough.

TURCIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

LUDDEN: "If this becomes permanent," she says, "it would become routine. Just do it and get forgiveness." Jon O'Brien of Catholics for Choice says American Catholics are already having abortions at the same rate as other women. He's sure Pope Francis knows that.

JON O'BRIEN: He recognizes that there's this gulf and he's trying to bridge the gulf between what the hierarchy says and what ordinary Catholics really do.

LUDDEN: With abortion once again a heated topic on the campaign trail, O'Brien sees a political aim in the pope's letter.

O'BRIEN: Maybe this message is really a message for his brother bishops who have waged culture wars over the bodies and lives of women. It's saying that we can talk about things and it's a pastoral type of approach rather than a political one.

CAROL TOBIAS: This is in no way a step away from the fact that killing an unborn child is wrong.

LUDDEN: Carol Tobias heads the National Right to Life Committee. She foresees no impact on the political debate over abortion, only acknowledgment that the procedure causes grief and pain.

TOBIAS: We welcome the pope's efforts to bring healing and forgiveness to men and women who have participated in the death of their unborn child.

LUDDEN: For some abortion rights groups, the pope's letter doesn't go far enough. For example, it says women can be forgiven if they're contrite. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health says this perpetuates judgment and shame on those who have abortions. Many on both sides of the debate will be looking to see if Pope Francis expands on his message when he visits the U.S. later this month. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.