Bishop Rozanski welcomes Pope's stance on abortion forgiveness

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The region's Catholic bishop says he welcomes a recent move by Pope Francis to allow priests worldwide to forgive the sin of abortion, calling it emblematic of this leader's focus on mercy.

And while priests in Berkshire County already had that option, one said that after the Pope's announcement he heard from a parishioner still struggling with the issue of abortion.

In a Nov. 20 apostolic letter, Pope Francis mentioned the change, which marked the end of the church's Jubilee of Mercy, which had begun Dec. 8, 2015.

About 20 years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops allowed priests under its direction to forgive parishioners who confess to having had an abortion.

While legal in the U.S. since 1973, the church considers abortion a sin.

The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which encompasses Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties, said the pope's directive is a way of healing people who feel unwelcome in the church due to abortion.

"For some people, they feel alienated from the church by the sin of abortion," he said. "Many times, there's just this sense of overwhelming guilt. This is a way of reaching out to them."

The pope's decision also extends the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, in which the pope himself visited people on the margins of society like prisoners and the homeless, Rozanski said. The bishop said he saw the pope's decision as in keeping with the emphasis he has placed on mercy since his selection in March 2013.

"The mercy of the church has to extend all through the ages," he said. "What Pope Francis is really doing ... is extending that work of the year of mercy into the future."

PENITENT'S MERCY

Despite the longtime ability of priests to forgive this sin in Berkshire County, the pope's decision has already had an impact, one priest said.

"I just had a penitent come with the excitement of that news who has felt so guilty in life, and I was able to share that mercy with him and give him peace," said the Rev. A. Peter Gregory of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Pittsfield. "I think the announcement clarifies that the power of forgiveness comes from the mercy of God. Guilt is painful, and to relieve guilt is a beautiful gift of God's mercy."

Gregory said he welcomes the pope's decision wholeheartedly.

"I love to see people be assured that they are certainly God's children, and his mercy is upon them," he said.

While the church does not sanction abortion, some Catholics see it differently.

Rosemarie Polidoro, a lifelong Catholic and a member of Sacred Heart Church in Pittsfield, said she believes abortion is not a sin in itself - it is a personal decision whose morality depends on the circumstances involved.

"For women ... who spend their lives with a guilt complex over it because it's something that had to be done, I think this [decision] is a wonderful thing," she said.

EARLIER STANCE

Prior to the decision of the Vatican about 20 years ago, only a bishop could forgive an American confessor who had an abortion or facilitated abortion, according to the Rev. John Salatino, former pastor of St. Mark Church in Pittsfield. He is now working in the parish of El Resucitado in Peru and responded to questions from The Eagle in an email.

A priest would have to ask the confessor to return after he contacted the bishop's office and obtained permission to absolve the sin. He or she frequently did not come back, he said.

Receiving absolution immediately upon confession and repentance is necessary for healing from the trauma of abortion, said Mark E. Dupont, spokesperson for the diocese of Springfield.

"It's very important that the absolution be given as soon as possible," he said, "and the Holy Father recognizes that."

Without confessing and receiving absolution, the sin of abortion carries automatic excommunication. Confession, part of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, is necessary in order to obtain forgiveness for sins.

The priest, in forgiving the sin, lifts the excommunication for the sin of abortion, said the Rev. Michael Lillpopp of Sts. Patrick & Raphael Parish in Williamstown.

Forgiveness of the sin is comparable to a doctor healing a sick patient with medicine, Lillpopp said.

"The doctor doesn't withhold medicine to condemn you for getting the sickness," he said. "[Forgiveness] enables you to heal moving forward."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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