PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While Pope Francis is getting attention once again for a progressive stance on a traditional topic — the sin of abortion — Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Providence Diocese says the announcement isn’t much of a change.
Francis said in a letter Tuesday priests will have the power to show women forgiveness for getting an abortion if they show contrition. The sin can be absolved at a priest’s discretion during the Holy Year of Mercy, between December 8, 2015, and November 2016.
Francis said he has met many women bearing “the scar of this agonizing” decision to abort, and said God’s forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent.
“I think in this particular gesture the Holy Father has made several points. First of all he reminds us that abortion is a very grave sin, because it’s the destruction, the end of a human life. We still take that very, very seriously — as does the pope,” Bishop Tobin said.
Some view the pontiff’s decision as an attempt to reach out to estranged Catholics.
“Most dioceses have had permission to do that for many, many years — so while it’s a wonderful gesture on behalf of the Holy Father, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference here in Rhode Island,” Bishop Tobin said Tuesday.
The church considers abortion to be such a grave sin that women who have had them are automatically excommunicated – banning them from sacraments such as communion, confession, and marriage. According to Tobin, the Pope is making a wonderful gesture that some Catholics should not turn away from.
“For those Catholics who have been through that terrible process of abortion — they should not be afraid. They should not stay away but go to their priest. Receive the sacrament of confession and make a new beginning. I think that’s what the holy father is trying to emphasis in that year of mercy.”
Tobin, for his part, has time and again championed the traditional church stance. In January, he declined an invitation to the inauguration of Rhode Island’s first female governor, Gina Raimondo, saying he disagrees with the governor on several issues, including “the grave moral evil” of abortion.
In 2013, he told WPRI.com’s Ted Nesi he became a registered Republican because of the “cultural destruction” he saw happening as the Democratic party supported abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“As I’ve said many times, I was not ordained to be irrelevant and the church was not commissioned to be irrelevant,” he said in May on the occasion of his tenth anniversary as the bishop of the Providence Diocese.