Prior to his landing in the United States, Pope Francis announced that priests will now be able to forgive the sin of abortion for women with “contrite hearts.” In other words, women who are truly sorry for committing this sin can now be forgiven by a priest, instead of asking forgiveness from a bishop. On the surface, this may seem a merciful announcement. In reality, it continues a false teaching that has divided Christianity since the time of the Lutheran Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church has ranked sins in order of severity, with different consequences for the sinner and different requirements for absolution. What does God say about this?
The Bible is very clear regarding sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). All sins, whether they appear bigger or smaller, earn eternal death in hell as their punishment because they all are essentially the same sin: disobedience to God.
While we agree with the pope that abortion is sinful, we do not agree on how that sin is forgiven. What should a woman who has undergone an abortion and is truly sorry for her sin do? According to the catholic teaching, she must confess to a bishop (or, from December 15, 2015, through November 20, 2016, to a priest) and ask for forgiveness. This is a false teaching. God’s Word clearly tells us that Jesus Christ has already earned our forgiveness. That sin of abortion has already been forgiven by Him. And in faith, a woman with a contrite heart looks to Jesus and, through the Holy Spirit’s power, grabs hold of the assurance of God that her sins have been forgiven by Him.
A woman who has sinned can certainly confess her sins to her priest, to a bishop, or to a Lutheran pastor. And those men, recognizing repentance, have an obligation to forgive any sin confessed. A woman who has sinned can confess her sins, for example, in the public confession of the Lutheran worship service and believe, without a doubt, when the pastor says “Your sins are forgiven” in the absolution. It is certainly a good practice to confess our sins privately to our pastor or another Christian, or in the public worship service. The pastor has been called by God, through the Church, to forgive sins. As a trusted servant of God, he will be able to help both now and in the future when Satan tempts you to feel guilty over sins that have been washed away. But we also have the joy of knowing that we can approach the throne of God for forgiveness directly because of our Savior, Jesus. For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
Our forgiveness does not depend on confessing our sins to a bishop. It does not depend on our work of confession. Forgiveness comes from God as a free gift to us, earned by Jesus, our Savior. Sin separates us from God. But Jesus brings us back together with the Father through His holy life and innocent death. In faith, confess your sins to God. And you can believe, without doubt, Jesus’ own words, “Your sins are forgiven.”