Forgiving Abortion ~ A Look at Papal Authority

(Photo “Sacred Heart Catholic Church” courtesy of user Matthew Paulson and FlickrFlickr).
Earlier this week the Washington Times and Washington Post both reported news from the Vatican as the Pope conferred authority to priests to forgive women who have had abortions. While this is a departure from past routines and certain to concern conservative Catholics about future directions of the church. In some ways the revelation from this decree is unsurprising. However, in other ways we find the Pope’s declaration concerning from a Christian worldview. While many are concerned about the abortion issue here (and I understand why), my purpose is not to address that, but instead I want to focus on the contradictions to Scripture that are overlooked instead.
The story did not begin on Sunday, but actually finds its commencement a year ago (or centuries ago if you want to factor in the development of doctrine that leads to this week’s proclamation). It was a year ago that Pope Francis declared a year of mercy. The significance of this is that priests were given authority for the year to forgive those seeking forgiveness for abortion. The declaration was noteworthy first because it comes outside a normal year of jubilee. Furthermore though we note it’s interesting characteristics because under catholic teaching, not only is abortion (generally) a sin, but it can only be forgiven by a bishop and not by the priests. We find it back in the news this week because Pope Francis has extended that proclamation by making it perpetual. In other words, there currently is no end date given and it appears that there is no plans to place an end date upon it.
When hearing about this, our ears should perk up in our constant guard against false teaching. I would propose that there are at least three areas we need to take note of here (with extended time, there are more issues that we could talk about, but for brevity my focus is here):
  1. False Hermeneutic: This is important, because it affects the other two falsehoods. Based upon Christ’s words in Matthew 16 in which he says he will build his church upon Peter (this rock) (Matthew 16:18) the Catholic church claims an authority was delegated to Peter, who they claim to be their first pope, and thus it is extended to the Catholic church as well. Second to that is their interpretation of Matthew 18:18 where it is stated was is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. Using their own interpretation they claim this to be verse that supports the need for absolution of sin on earth so that one may enter heaven in a sinless state. Yet, the accuracy of their interpretation of these verses falls into question and serious doubts when reading the verses in context of the entirety of Scripture which offers no such support for an interpretation.
  2. False Priesthood: Because of their false hermeneutic, they are lead towards a false priesthood. First authority has been given to church leadership which it does not necessarily have (more about that in a minute). This is a complete denial of the priesthood of believers who have direct access to God. The book of Hebrews is the best place in which we see this, but certainly the life of Christ taught and demonstrated this concept as well. The idea is that with Christ and the atonement of sin comes our ability to meet with God directly through Jesus Christ. Instead the church has taken upon itself a role to act as mediator between man and God.
  3. False Authority & Deity: Finally, the church has delegated a false authority to its bishops and popes. Scripture does not give an example of nor support the claim that mere humans can absolve fellow humans from their own sin. It seems contradictory to think that a human who is sinful has the ability to forgive others’ sin. But even without that logic, we see from Scripture where even Christ was condemned for forgiving sins because they understood that by doing so Christ was claiming to be God. Thus who can forgive sins but God alone? The church then has placed itself in the role of God and in essence is showing itself to be equal to God.
While certainly certain levels of authority have been given to humans, including the confrontation of sin, the manner in which that is approached is dictated by God’s Word. It is to His word that we should seek truth and information. It is to God we look for salvation. It is to God that we look to for all things. While man has erred and often contradicts, God does not.