The reason that religion in general is such a sensitive issue is that it truly comes down to individual interpretation. It is not a quantifiable, tangible entity. This assertion seems unnecessary due to its obvious simplicity, but it is often overlooked. In its most basic sense, religion is a series of abstract concepts by which people attempt to live their lives.
Given that most major world faiths have a vast array of sacred texts written in archaic languages, one can see why people often disagree over certain teachings. Perhaps the nuances in one person’s translation are slightly different to someone else’s, or maybe they believe that one religious source is more credible than another. This is where intermediary figures such as the Pope come into the picture. As the traditional successor to St Peter, to whom Jesus delegated the responsibility of being the leader of his disciples, to Christians the Pope has the ability to enforce measures to which, in theory, all followers have to adhere.
For example, in a letter written to mark the end of the ‘Holy Year Of Mercy’ (the liturgical term for 2016), Pope Francis declared that he granted all priests the right to absolve women who have had abortions. This was previously just a temporary measure put in place solely to commemorate the year of mercy, but has now been extended indefinitely. Indeed, if we look at previous papal attitudes towards abortion, the significance of the Pope’s pronouncement multiplies 10-fold. Even as recently as 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter entitled the Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) in which he clarified his, and in extension the Church’s, unwavering position on abortion, stating: “I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.” This idea was supported by members of the clergy, as demonstrated by a document called The Common Good which was written by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales in the same year, in which they said that all human rights flow from one fundamental right: the right to life.
It must be made clear that Pope Francis is not saying that abortion is no longer a sin, but he is saying that it can be forgiven. This fits in with his wider policy of ‘reconciliation’ rather than ‘condemnation’, something which has surprisingly been met with criticism from other significant Christian figures. Four Cardinals are questioning him on his pioneering thoughts about family, which are recorded in a document called Amoris Laetitia. The document includes the idea that divorced and remarried people can still receive Holy Communion, and has been branded by American Cardinal prelate Raymond Burke as a ‘serious error’.
There are many ways that this situation could be taken, but for some it shows hope. Rather than just sticking to a rule hard and fast, it seems as though Pope Francis entirely understands that mitigating circumstances do occur – something for which he has faced much criticism. This is an obvious step in the right direction, and reflects the opinion of most Christians that no sin is too big to be forgiven. Perhaps Pope Francis will be the one to bridge the gap between the moral standpoints of secular society and Christianity.
Image credit: The Independent