Jimmy Akin’s grave error on Abortion and Confession

UPDATED (see the last section of the post).

On his blog, Jimmy Akin makes a false claim which is gravely harmful to souls, on the subject of abortion, excommunication, and Confession. He erroneously claims:

“Therefore, a person who procures an abortion incurs an automatic excommunication which prevents them from receiving the sacraments. Confession is a sacrament, therefore, they cannot be absolved in confession until the excommunication is lifted.”

Jimmy Akin harms souls by claiming that an excommunicated person, such as someone guilty of abortion, cannot be absolved in Confession until the excommunication is lifted. This false claim could cause some persons to turn aside from the forgiveness of God in Confession, because the priest at hand does not have faculties to lift an excommunication.

Akin is mistaken in his premise that excommunication absolutely prevents the guilty person from receiving any and all Sacraments. He is distorting the truth by oversimplification. In some cases, an excommunicated person can receive a Sacrament validly.

For example, the members of the SSPX who were excommunicated by Pope Saint John Paul II (a sentence later lifted by Pope Benedict XVI) could still be validly (though illicitly) ordained as priests. And during the Year of Mercy, as a testament to their valid ordination, they can validly and licitly absolve sins. Though the sentence of ferendae sententiae excommunication was lifted, the members of the SSPX remain under automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) for heresy and schism.

Strangely, Akin cites and links to the blog of Canonist Ed Peters, who says the opposite of what Akin claims. Dr. Peters says: “all priests with faculties can absolve from this sin.” So any priest with faculties to hear Confessions can forgive the sin of abortion. If the priest does not have the faculty to lift excommunication, he still can forgive the sin, returning the person (who has at least imperfect contrition) to the state of grace.

Now abortion is both a grave sin and a “crime” under Canon law, for which the penalty is excommunication — only if the person knew about the law and its penalty. But I wish to emphasize, for the salvation of souls, that any and all repentant Catholics, who are guilty of the sin of abortion or any other sin, can go to any validly-ordained priest with faculties to hear Confession and be forgiven of their sins and returned to the state of grace — even if the individual is excommunicated and that priest cannot lift a sentence of excommunication. For the Church is the Ark of Salvation. She is a mother concerned for the eternal salvation of Her children.

Everyone who dies in a state of unforgiven actual mortal sin will be punished in Hell. But everyone who dies in the state of grace, even if they died under a sentence of excommunication, will have eternal life in Heaven. Saint Joan of Arc died under a penalty of excommunication, without it having been lifted. She went to Heaven. The Church is solicitous for the salvation of souls. So a sentence of excommunication does not prevent a repentant Catholic from receiving forgiveness for sins in Confession. Do not listen to those modern-day Pharisees who claim that you cannot go to Confession, despite being repentant, until a sentence of excommunication or some other censure is lifted.

Jimmy Akin is a popular teacher among Catholics. But I have found many grave doctrinal errors in his writings, including abject heresy:

* Confession in Kind and Number
* Jimmy Akin’s Heresy on Transubstantiation
* A Summary of the Heresies Taught by Jimmy Akin

He is leading many souls into grave error by his false teachings. He is an example of the blind leading the blind.

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.


Jimmy Akin has updated his post, to attempt to support his claim that persons guilty of abortion “cannot be absolved in confession until the excommunication is lifted.” He quotes Canon Law, which says that an excommunicated person cannot receive the Sacraments.

My reply: Canon Law includes many exceptions for various situations. It is not like the eternal moral law, which, when it condemns an act as intrinsically evil, allows for no exceptions. Generally, an excommunicated person cannot receive the Sacraments. But there are exceptions (discussed below).

A person who procures an abortion is NOT excommunicated unless they knew of the law (Canon Law) and the penalty of excommunication. I think most Catholics are unaware of this penalty, so most who commit this sin are not excommunicated.

Any priest, even one without faculties, can forgive all sins and lift all censures, if the penitent is in danger of death.

Another important point, not mentioned by Akin, is that excommunication for procuring abortion with knowledge of the penalty is almost always an “undeclared latae sententiae” censure. And Canon Law permits confessors WHO LACK THE FACULTY NEEDED TO REMOVE MOST EXCOMMUNICATIONS to nevertheless forgive the sin AND remit the excommunication for the undeclared type of automatic excommunication. So unless a Bishop has publicly declared a person to be excommunicated for abortion (very rare), the censure is undeclared, and more easily remitted:

Can. 1357 §1. Without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 508 and 976, a confessor can remit in the internal sacramental forum an undeclared latae sententiae censure of excommunication or interdict if it is burdensome for the penitent to remain in the state of grave sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to make provision.

§2. In granting the remission, the confessor is to impose on the penitent, under the penalty of reincidence, the obligation of making recourse within a month to the competent superior or to a priest endowed with the faculty and the obligation of obeying his mandates; in the meantime he is to impose a suitable penance and, insofar as it is demanded, reparation of any scandal and damage; however, recourse can also be made through the confessor, without mention of the name.

If a confessor is not available who can remit the excommunication, ANY confessor can forgive the sin, so that the person repentant with imperfect contrition does not have to remain in a state of grave sin while awaiting recourse to a confessor with the faculty. And that same confessor also can remit the excommunication, provided that the penitent seeks resource to a priest with the faculty (or a Bishop) OR provided that the confessor himself obtains the remission, from a person with the faculty, without mention of the penitents name. In other words, the priest can go to the pastor of the parish (who usually has this faculty) or the Bishop and mention lifting of the censure without mentioning the name of the penitent.

So there you have it. Most persons who commit the sin of abortion are probably not excommunicated because they did not know about the penalty of excommunication. Those who are excommunicated can go to Confession with a priest who has the faculties to lift excommunication (typically the parish pastor, sometimes every priest in the diocese). In the unusual case where the person is excommunicated and a priest with faculties to lift this excommunication is not available anytime soon, ANY priest can forgive the sin AND lift the excommunication (because it is undeclared). For the Church is solicitous to save as many souls as possible.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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