The Abortion Issue
Father F. Cervantes


I am concerned that there are some people who have totally misunderstood the whole process of the absolution of "reserved sins."  A reserved sin is any action contrary to God's Will that can only be forgiven by a diocesan bishop (not an auxiliary one) or the pope himself (please see John 20:22-23 - "Jesus breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.") 

There is a list of sins reserved to the bishop or to the Holy See.  Abortion or the involvement in procuring an abortion is an automatic excommunication from the life of the Church's sacramental life.  The absolution of the sin of abortion, or procuring an abortion, or helping a person to have an abortion is reserved to the diocesan bishop.  In the United States of America, most diocesan bishops (not all) have delegated that authority (faculty) to absolve the sin of abortion to priests in the parish. 

Pope Francis has now delegated that authority to absolve from the sin of abortion to all priests around the world starting on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015, the beginning of the Church's Year to highlight the Divine Mercy of God (until the feast of Christ the King in 2016).  But you must understand:  the sin of abortion is not only committed by women:  the sin of abortion is committed by anyone, male or female, that has helped a person to get an abortion, who has counseled a person to procure an abortion, who has driven a person to a medical facility to get an abortion, the medical  personnel (doctors, nurses, etc...) who perform abortions or helps in the abortion procedure, and anyone who benefits from an abortion in regards to the selling of unborn babies body parts (and that involves fetal stem cells taken from an abortion procedure).  All these actions are covered by the sin of abortion and are reserved to the diocesan bishop.

So, the sin of abortion is not only committed by women....this sin is also committed by men as accomplices to the sin of abortion.  Church Law treats all equally in regards to abortion, both men and women. 

Let me make this as clear as I can:  an unborn child in the mother's womb is not a "potential human being."  It is a human being.  The Church accepts as truth that abortion is the killing of an actual human being.  When the sperm fertilizes the ovum, at that moment of conception, an individual and unique human life is present.  The human soul is infused in that zygote and is no longer considered a "potential human life" but an actual human life.  And since there are many who think that the zygote is nothing but a mass of cells that can be destroyed and even cannibalized for human body parts or stem cells, the Church will always reserve the sin of abortion (from the actual person procuring an abortion to all the accomplices involved) to the chief spiritual father of a diocese (local church) and that spiritual head is the diocesan bishop.  The murder of a human outside the womb is always considered heinous, and a confessor such as myself can "retain" the sin until the sinner actually makes reparation for that sin by admitting his sin to civil authorities.  The murder of an unborn child is considered such a horrible sin because certain people can so easily sweep this actual human life under the rug of rationalization that this is not a human being.  The unborn child in the mother's womb is a real and actual human being with an immortal human soul moving and energizing the cells, growth, and development of the fetus.  The rationalization of abortion is to deny the truth of a human life within the womb and therefore can be discarded as an excess lump of flesh, or even used for whatever purposes rationalized as "science."  The difference between the murder of a person outside the womb and a person inside the womb is this:  one can be rationalized, the other is obviously murder and evil.  And since abortion can be rationalized away so easily, the Church has decided that to make the point that abortion is murder and cannot be explained away:  therefore the sin of abortion must be reserved to the diocesan bishop to emphasize the seriousness of this sin of abortion, and its effects on all humankind.  Until the sin of abortion is eradicated from the face of the earth, the Church will always reserve the sin of abortion to the diocesan bishop who is free to delegate (faculty) that authority to absolve the sin of abortion to his parish priests as it is done in my diocese.

Now, to the sin of murder of a person living outside the womb, some have the mistaken view that a person can kill someone, go to confession, and go "free" without any personal responsibility and accountability of their sin of murder.  That is far from the truth.  As a priest confessor, I can decide NOT to absolve a person from any sin, especially the sin of murder.  Though the sin of murder is not a reserved sin to the diocesan bishop, the sin of murder is a reserved sin for me, the priest confessor.  Remember, the Church, in the Gospel of John 20:23, has the right and obligation not only to forgive sin, as Saint John wrote, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them," the Church also can, in certain serious circumstances, not to forgive, as Saint John writes, "and whose sins you retain are retained."  In such serious sins, such as murder, the priest confessor will retain (not extend) absolution until that person truly repents from the sin of murder.  And how to repent and show true contrition of the sin of murder?  Confess to civil authorities, accept the consequences of that sin, and after that is done, then absolution can be extended.  I have retained, at times, the sins of those who confessed in the Sacrament of Penance (confession) until they have shown true contrition and accept total responsibility for their actions, and hold themselves accountable for that sin before civil authority (such as police and courts).  Even though murder is not a reserved sin to the diocesan bishop or Holy See, it is a reserved sin for the priest-confessor who will retain the sin and not extend absolution until that person presents to me the requirements for true contrition and repentance.  No one who confesses murder in the Sacrament of Penance will receive easy absolution of their sin.  There is a process of repentance, contrition, and accountability that must first be completed before absolution can be extended for the most serious of sins.  Also, I can, as a confessor, retain the following sins until the person presents to me the requirements of repentance and contrition:  murder, robbery, violence against another person for the sake of violence, illegal selling of drugs, adultery, sexual exploitation of minors, sexual trafficking, slavery, terrorism, domestic violence, exploitation of employees, violation of child labor laws of a country, and being an accomplice to any of the aforementioned sins.  And there are probably other sins that I would retain as a confessor that do not come to mind right now.  God demands true repentance of sin.  Absolution in the Sacrament of Penance should never be easy for serious sin.  So, as you can see, you are mistaken that one can confess murder and be easily absolved and go on their merry way.  That is far from the truth.    

To answer questions as to what are the list of sins that are reserved to the diocesan bishop or to the Holy See, here they are: 

1) Apostasy, heresy, schism (canon 1364);

2) Violation of Holy Communion (canon 1367, reserved to the Holy See);

3) Physical attack on the pope (canon 1370, reserved to the Holy See);

4) Absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment (canon 1378, reserved to the Holy See);

5) Unauthorized ordination and consecration of a bishop - this penalty is incurred by the both the ordaining bishop and the bishop who is ordained (canon 1382, reserved to the Holy See);

6) Direct violation of the seal of confession by the confessor (canon 1388, reserved to the Holy See);

7) Procuring an abortion and all accomplices of abortion (canon 1398, reserved to the diocesan bishop); 

8) Mechanically recording or divulging by a technical instrument in the communications media what was said by either the confessor or penitent in a sacramental confession, whether performed by oneself or by another (canon 1367 and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, AAS 80, 23 September 1988);

9) Physical attack on a bishop (canon 1370);

10) Pretended celebration of the Eucharist by a non-priest (canon 1378);

11) Attempt to impart sacramental absolution or hear confession by one who cannot do so validly (canon 1378);

12) False accusation and denunciation of a priest of having committed the crime of solicitation in the confessional (canon 1390);

13) Attempted marriage, even civil, by a religious in perpetual vows (canon 1394); 

14) Cleric who attempts marriage, even merely a civil marriage (canon 1394);

15) Cleric who was ordained by a bishop who does not have legitimate dismissorial letters (canon 1383);

16) Any sin that is determined by the diocesan bishop or the Holy See to be reserved.

That is the list of reserved sins to the Holy See or the diocesan bishop or both.  I hope this clarifies all questions concerning the grave issue of abortion.   - Father F. Cervantes 


“If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive
us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” – 1 John 1-9


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