FORT SMITH (KFSM)—The Catholic Church’s “Holy Year of Mercy” ended with a big announcement: On Monday (Nov. 21), Pope Francis announced Catholic priests can permanently forgive abortions.
“I'm excited about it because I think the Holy Spirit is guiding Pope Francis, just as he has guided the church," said Father John Antony. "I think we should all rejoice with this news.”
Fr. Antony has been at Immaculate Conception in Fort Smith for three years. He said in most of the United States, bishops already granted their priests the authority to forgive an abortion. However that wasn’t the case across the world.
“It is what's called a reserved sin,” Fr. Antony said. "In order to be forgiven of that particular sin, you had to actually go to the bishop to go to confession."
While many have called Pope Francis a progressive pope, Fr. Antony said the church is always moving forward.
“I think each pope brings out a new facet of the church's teaching, and her life and her ministry and her mission,” Fr. Antony said.
He said Pope John Paul II spoke often about marriage. Pope Benedict talked about the liturgy and the glory of going to mass.
“So now, Pope Francis is emphasizing another aspect of Catholic teaching, which is mercy,” he said.
Pope Francis has been criticized by more conservative Catholics.
“The pope is not creating a new church,” Fr. Antony said. “He is part of a 2,000-year history of the Catholic faith that has grown over the centuries, and we believe guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis still stressed the church’s stance on abortion hasn’t changed, calling it a “grave sin.”
“Abortion is seriously wrong has been a teaching from the beginning and continues to be today, so it's not really surprising,” Fr. Antony said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that every human life “from the moment of conception until death is sacred” — and that any Catholic who procures an abortion incurs automatic excommunication, a penalty that often only a bishop can lift.
However, as Fr. Antony said, Pope Francis called for mercy in his announcement on Monday.
“There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father,” Francis said.