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A heretical priest has renounced his errors. That’s fine. But he also paid for two abortions; has he expressed penitence for THAT? The CDF isn’t saying

Collaboration with the procurement if an abortion attracts automatic excommunication: has any excommunication been officially lifted? Is he in fact sorry he did it?

By on Friday, 20 July 2012

Cardinal Levada, outgoing prefect of the CDF, looks over his correspondence (CNS)

Cardinal Levada, outgoing prefect of the CDF, looks over his correspondence (CNS)

In what looks like an encouraging story for those of us who think, or at least hope, that the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” (rather than the reality of what the Council Fathers actually taught) is – despite the appearances in some countries – now in retreat, the EWTN Newslink site has a piece headlined “Spanish Priest Retracts Opposition To Church Teaching”. This turns out to be the apparent happy ending of a story that has been unfolding for many years, and is clearly the result of long patient handling of the delinquent priest in question (and he has been very delinquent indeed) by the CDF.

This is how the story has been reported. In response to questions by the CDF, the Spanish priest Fr Manuel Pousa I Engronat has retracted the contents of a book, entitled Fr Manuel: Closer to Earth than to Heaven, published in February of 2011. Fr Pousa said he had “blessed” homosexual unions among prison inmates and that he supported “voluntary” celibacy and women’s ordination. He also said he had paid for someone’s abortion (this turns out to have been two abortions).

The priest’s retraction was published in the May edition of the Archdiocese of Barcelona’s newspaper. In it he states that he believes that “the Magisterium of the Church does not err, and specifically on the questions of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.” In response to his book, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a series of questions to Fr Pousa in January of this year. His answers were returned on February 5, and on April 20 the congregation ordered that they be published in their entirety.

In his statement Fr Pousa explained that his desire to “live the universal brotherhood proclaimed by the Lord Jesus” has occasionally led him to make “erroneous or inaccurate statements, such as that priests are not necessary to celebrate the Eucharist, or that women could be priests, or that many things in the Church could be changed”. He wished, he said, to live in “hierarchical communion”. He ended by asking that “what he has always publicly and privately manifested be accepted: that I have lived and wish to live my faith in this God manifested in Jesus Christ and in his Church, through the gift that Jesus and the Church gave me to be able to live it in my priestly ministry, exercised with humility and gratitude, aided by the grace of God and the intercession of the Virgin Mary.”

Well, that all sounds fine, and I’m sure that if the CDF says so this is the happy ending it looks like: penitent priest wants to live in “hierarchical communion” with the Church and renounces all his doctrinal errors. But what’s that bit about the Church accepting “what he has always publicly and privately manifested” all about? I thought the whole point was that what he had publicly manifested was just what his superiors were worried about.

The public story of Fr Pousa, of course, started long before he told it in print in the book he has now retracted. It includes, it seems, paying for two abortions not one; this is much more serious than expressing support for women priests and voluntary clerical celibacy, views he has now renounced. But has he, even now, expressed his repentance for the mortal sin of collaboration in procuring an abortion? We are not told; perhaps we should assume it: but this is the real scandal, not the book, and we should surely have been told. In the absence of clarification, questions are already being asked about whether this particular sin shouldn’t have incurred automatic excommunication. That’s certainly what Pope John Paul affirms in Evangelium Vitae (§62):

The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion with excommunication… The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed… Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.

This is reasserted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2272): “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence… A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae”. The process, that is to say, is automatic, and there are no exceptions.

It does not appear, however, that Fr Pousa was excommunicated at any stage, or that an automatic excommunication was declared or assumed and, after appropriate penitential procedures by the appropriate authority, lifted. Why is that, I wonder? He paid for two abortions. Was some mitigating factor discerned by his bishop and by the CDF? Fr Pousa, it seems, pleaded a good intention behind this act: he did it, he claims because if he hadn’t, the two girls involved would have gone to a backstreet abortionists, and this was safer. What he did was done to avoid an even greater evil. But that surely couldn’t have washed with the CDF? “There are acts,” says Humanae Vitae (§14) “which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” So intending to avoid a greater evil wouldn’t excuse Fr Pousa of formally collaborating with the evil that was in fact committed. And the excommunication, says Pope John Paul, “affects all those who commit this crime … And thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed”.

Look, I don’t want to dismiss as unimportant the fact that a heretical priest has renounced his heresies and wishes now to live his priestly life in “hierarchical communion” with his bishop. Article 2272 does after all go on to say that “The Church does not [by decreeing excommunication for collaborating in abortion] intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”

But since Fr Pousa’s new disposition and intentions have been made public by order of the CDF, do we not need to know just a little more, to avoid scandalising the faithful anew, about what he actually did (not just what he wrote about it), about how this was assessed by the authorities, and whether he has truly expressed his sorrow for the grave sins he committed? I can’t quite reconcile his apparent metanoia and expressed penitental humility with that little flourish at the end of his statement of retraction: he ended, you will recall, by asking that “what [he has always] publicly and privately manifested ] be accepted: That I have lived [my emphasis] and wish to live my faith in this God manifested in Jesus Christ and in his Church….”

Is something missing in translation maybe? Is that, in fact, a real retraction at all? If the CDF says it’s kosher, I’m sure they’re right. But please, could we just have some clarification? I’m not the only one who is a little confused by all this.

  • Patricklangan

    Is this yet another example of the current malady afflicting the Church coming directly from the falsehoods emanating from the misinterpretations of VII, led by the clergy! 50 years up! Ora pro nobis.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

    Dear Mr Oddie,
    Why the constant vituperation and name-calling, eg. heretical etc,? It sounds almost as though you would welcome the return of the Inquisition and the burning of heretics, or of anyone who disagrees with you. What about Christian charity? Surely there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who have no need to repent? Your faith comes across as very intolerant and bitter, not the most attractive qualities of faith. May the Lord be gentle towards you.

  • paulpriest

     Two of our neighbours were murdered – and an ordained servant to the Lord, the Giver of those [extinguished] lives – paid for their murder!

    I’ll rejoice with all of Heaven at one repentant sinner – once it’s clear they’ve repented.

  • Honeybadger

    It is VITALLY IMPORTANT that the question over whether or not this priest repented over procurement of an abortion should be brought out into the open – if only to dispel any anxiety for members of we, the Roman Catholic Church.
    If he was a priest in my parish, I would attend Holy Mass elsewhere until there were answers.
    I guess that, if we were talking about a layperson in the same situation, would the matter be dealth with more harshly?

  • rjt1

    If this priest has renounced his former opinion about abortion, that would indicate that he now recognises his action to have been wrong, so that strongly suggests he has repented of it. I don’t think we need to be told whether he has gone to confession nor would I have thought it to be the job of the CDF to tell us. Isn’t their role to assess the compatibility of published opinions with magisterial teaching?


    Well said, Fr Reilly. I guess Oddie just can’t get through the day without a fix of anger and bitterness……. 

  • theroadmaster

    Abortion will always remain an objectively evil act, and those directly implicated in it, bring upon themselves, the penalty of ex-communication from the Body of Christ i.e His Church.  This cannot be treated lightly and it seems that the Spanish priest involved in the procuring of this act, did not incur this very serious forfeit regarding exclusion from the spiritual life of the Church.  Serious questions indeed must be asked concerning this, as it would set a very poor example indeed and invite scathing criticisms concerning “one law for one, but not for the other”.  If this once maverick cleric is sincere in the renouncement of his past positions, and penitent for his involvement in two declared abortions, then we can be grateful.  Patience is one thing but it can seem to onlookers that this can develop into a seeming toleration of very serious sinful conduct, as we have in the cases of Bishops in the US, who fail in their pastoral duty to admonish public figures who openly flaunt their “Catholic” credentials, but persist in adopting positions which are a scandal in relation to the Catholic Faith.  We must expect justice but with firmness from the CDF, regarding any distortions or misrepresentations of the Faith by those who teach or declare their belief in it.

  • EndTimes101

    “Why the constant vituperation and name-calling”

    “you would welcome the return of the Inquisition and the burning of heretics”

    “or of anyone who disagrees with you”

    “Your faith comes across as very intolerant and bitter”

    “May the Lord be gentle towards you”

    Im not not sure if im impressed or horrified that you have managed to pack so much hypocrisy, condescension and false witness into one small paragraph….. but you did get one sentence right, “what about Christian charity?”

    “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

  • JabbaPapa

    Mr Oddie — SORRY, but this is a matter for the Father’s Confessor, and certainly NOT something for a public internet discussion.

    Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

    of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

    of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

    of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

    To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

    Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

    Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

    My own obedience to these canons of the Catechism is less than perfect, then again I’m not setting myself up as more Catholic than the CDF either.

  • LocutusOP

    I’m with you 100% on this Dr. Oddie, and I’ll go one further and admit that I’m more than a little confused – both by the resolution and the fact that it took so long for it to be addressed.

    The whole situation is scandalous and I’m actually curious about whether he was allowed to celebrate mass having been automatically excommunicated: It is my understanding that those who cannot receive the Eucharist are not to administer it either.

  • LocutusOP

    It seems to me that we are not assuming anything. The man has publicly confessed to grave sins, and having done that I don’t find it unreasonable to ask that his retraction be anything other than ambiguous.

    We are not dealing with someone who we suspect to have done things in error, so none of those articles you quote apply in any way to this particular case.

  • James hughes

    If the priest has ex-facie repented and the CDF are so satisfied then surely that is an end to the matter. It is not for mere mortals to second guess the true intent of penitents otherwise there would be no true forgiveness.It’s entirely a matter for almighty god. We can pretend to the world and perhaps even ourselves but there is no fooling the almighty and I dread to think of the possible consequences of attempting to. In any event I will be too busy contending with my own faults and transgressions when I appear before god for judgement than any possible lying on the part of another. I am content that the CDF has dealt with the matter and no we don’t need to be troubled by how that institution dealt with the matter . My god surely we can trust them to have dealt with the confession properly and forget our human cynicism .AMDG   

  • W Oddie

    Come on, he’s admitted to being a heretic himself. I just want clarification, that’s all. I’m delighted if he’s repented of killing babies: but it’s just not clear that he has. His statement looks like less than a full retraction. I only want to KNOW: he’s gone public: but what’s he saying?. You say my faith come across as “very intolerant and bitter”. I say that’s just B*******cks. Yours comes across as insufferably smug & self-satisfied. Self-righteous, that’s the word I was groping for. You call yourself “Rev’” are you in fact a Catholic? I’d like to know that, too: if you weren’t it would explain a lot.

  • W Oddie

    I’m not angry in the slightest. Where do you see that?

  • Badger

    I have to agree Mr Oddie that you do come across as intolerant and judgement – I wondered if it was merely to create controversy and discussion but maybe not. Your comment to Rev Reilly is unkind too.
    It is none of our business whether he has been to confession and received absolution – that is private to him.
    Honeybadger, I cannot believe your comment about going elsewhere for Mass unless you knew he had been absolved. I think we all have enough to concentrate on our own shortcomings without issuing judgement on others.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m sorry, but at this stage of affairs this is NONE of our business.

    The matter of his public declarations of heresies, and his formal retraction of them, is most certainly a public affair, that may be publicly discussed.

    But the private state of his relationship with the Church is a matter of concern for himself, his parishioners, his Bishop, his Confessor, and possibly the other clergy of the diocese.

    It is not virtuous to have this online web discussion about matters that are private, and it is a clear case of detraction to have publicised the failings of this priest in this very uncharitable manner.

  • JByrne24

    There’s a lot of confusion here, isn’t there?

    “I’m delighted if he’s repented of killing babies: but it’s just not clear that he has.” ? well there’s a starter for you. Work that one out!
    Furthermore self-righteousness has been discovered - but not where you might have expected to find it, while anger has gone missing (from where I have often thought I found it). There is truly more than a little confusion, and on more than one matter.
    And nobody seems to me to know what has actually happened anyway! 
    And the Church accepts “what he has always publicly and privately manifested” – does it?
    If you are not very confused you could possibly consider if you might (just) be brain-dead.

    Seriously though, I can’t understand any of this. Is this an internet hoax?

  • JByrne24

    There’s certainly no point in trying to fool God about anything – even the clinically thick, like me, can see that!
    But it’s nothing to worry about. If you tried, I don’t think God would take you seriously.

  • daclamat

    I’m amazed to find myself in agreement with Jabba.

  • Trisagion

    If the crime had been committed in private then your remark about the privacy of his confession, penance and reconciliation would be in point. Since he bragged publicly about his act and thereby caused grave public scandal, then the fact of his repairing that scandal should be public too.

  • awkwardcustomer

    The antics of priests these days are a wonder to watch.  Including this one and his ‘rock’ mass. 
     If the link doesn’t work, try Missa Padre Jony en Tarragona, on Youtube.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     Mr Oddie,
    Mea culpa on the smugness! But there is a whiff of the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son in your response to the forgiveness of this priest.
    But I leave you to your bile; I just feel sad that you cannot rejoice in the wonderful wok of God in people you don’t agree with.

  • Pugin

    I don’t know why liberal Catholics complain so much about the Vatican repressing dissent in the ranks when any governmental political party or business company requires agreement among members; agreement on fundamentals beliefs is necessary before any organization can get anything done. If anything, the Vatican has been too lax in enforcing consent. If you don’t like Catholic teaching just don’t be a member of the Catholic church-its that simple. Also, the church is not and should not be a democracy as democracy is incompatible with religion, as religion seeks truth while democracy seeks consensus based on the changing whims of manipulated masses.

  • stroika

    Dr Oddie you are unconcerned about Tony Blair’s reception into the Catholic Church

    But you are worried about this bloke, whom we know the CDF are all over and presumably (as your last paragraph concedes) have dealt with it albeit not publicly. I had never heard of Fr Pousa and not even vaguely as “that priest who openly admitted to procuring an abortion”. Many many people know about Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for abortion and the whole culture of death and yet you seemed insouciant about the scandal given by his reception into the church.

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     Just like the Donatist heretics in th time of St Augustine. They, too, wanted a purer than pure church, with no mercy for the back-sliders. Unlike our merciful God!

  • Honeybadger

    What’s all this ballcocks about ‘judging’? Eh?

    In the case of heresy and abortion, yes, I WILL GO ELSEWHERE because that priest KNEW what he was doing when he went against the Magisterium and to actually fund two abortions.

    That priest was either thick, had a brainstorm or has an attitude problem.

    …. well… what counsel would he give to your average lay Roman Catholic person who went down the same road?

    Yeah, my point!

  • Honeybadger


  • Honeybadger

    Oh, wind your neck in, Coupon Reverend!

    You are talking through your anal orifice!

  • Rev. Gerry Reilly

     And I thought Northern Ireland Protestants were bigoted!! God Bless you my child.