Can Only a Bishop Absolve Sin of Abortion?

(letter edited to preserve anonimity)

Hi Fr. Bloom,

I heard a long time ago, in Catholic school, that if you confessed to an abortion the priest couldn't absolve you--you had to go to the bishop. I can't imagine telling this to a priest just to have him send me somewhere else... Is this still true? I've considered just calling the bishop himself, but I can't bring myself to do that, either.

But most importantly, what happened to my child? Can he ever go to heaven? Every year on the feast of the Holy Innocents, I hope that he's considered one of them. Does baptism by desire or baptism by fire cover him? I know I've blown it, but it's unbearable to think that I might have ruined his chance, too.


First of all, an apology for being so slow getting back to you. I have had some computer problems for sending email. Anyway, you have very much been in my prayers these past seven days. It's terrible to have a burden of such guilt - and also the fear of confessing it.

Let me clear up at least one concern. You can confess the sin of abortion to and receive absolution from any priest. The 1983 code of canon law no longer classifies it as a reserved sin, that is, one only the bishop can absolve. Part of the reason is that it has unfortunately become so common. As you have experienced, that fact does not take away from the terrible feeling of aloneness and isolation. Abortion still is one of seven offenses which bring automatic excommunication, but when the priest gives you absolution, the excommunication is lifted and you can return to communion.

You are still married, but you must seek reconciliation with at least two people. One is your husband. If he encouraged you in the abortion (and is Catholic) he too should confess the sin and receive sacramental forgiveness and healing. The other person is the child. Have you read the pope's words to women who have had an abortion?

As you ask your child for forgiveness, you must commend to the mercy of God. We do not know the fate of unbaptized children, altho the Holy Father does not define it, he takes a fairly positive view. I think about their little souls a lot - and think that part of the joy of heaven may be in meeting and holding them. But the main thing for you is to get back in the God's grace so one day you can do that.

I would like to recommend an excellent article by Fr. Frank Pavone. He both stresses the seriousness of abortion and our deep concern the woman who has undergone an abortion.

Please feel free to write again. You are very much in my prayers.

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

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