The Roman Catholic Church has not backed down on its stand on abortion because it’s a sin, a top clergyman has said.
This is despite the decision by the church to allow priests to absolve abortion on Christians during penance.
Penance is a process whereby catholic believers confess their sins before a priest and seek reconciliation with God.
During an interview with Saturday Times on Wednesday, the Bishop of Kabgayi, Smaragde Mbonyintege, warned believers not to misinterpret the recent announcement by Pope Francis allowing priests to absolve abortion.
“Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not mean the Church condones abortion, neither does it minimise its grave effects,” said Mbonyintege, who also doubles as the chairperson of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Rwanda.
Pope Francis announced Tuesday that all catholic priests across the world will have authority to absolve abortion upon their congregation during the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which will begin December 8.
In a letter, Pope Francis expressed empathy with women who go through abortion, calling their experience an agonising and painful decision.
During the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy Year, he wrote, all priests would be empowered to absolve the sin of abortion for those who seek forgiveness with a contrite heart.
Noting that Pope Francis’ offer is not new but only a move to widen a common Catholic practice, Mbonyintege said the abortion also deserves mercy but, as a wicked sin which involves killing, the culprits need psychological support to heal from stigma as well.
“Traditionally, bishops are the ones who have authority to absolve certain grave sins like abortion but a priest can only do it with the bishop’s authorisation. However, the priests will not need bishop’s permission to absolve abortion during the Jubilee Year,” he said.
Onesphore Rwaje, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Rwanda (EAR), said that abortion is a grave sin which attracts excommunication but the culprit can be reintegrated into the Church after rehabilitation and repentance.
Prince Bahati, the spokesperson of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Rwanda, said that women who abort deserve God’s mercy just as other sinners as long as they seek forgiveness from God.
Caritas Mukankubito, 53, a City of Kigali resident, said it is a good move by the Catholic Church to let God’s mercy reach out to all sinners.
“Abortion is bad but it is not an unforgivable sin. Women who get involved in abortion should not be banished from the Church,” she said.
Marie Mukesharugo, a retired nurse who lives in Nyamirambo, in Nyarugenge District, said women who induce abortion should confess before the congregation before they can be reintegrated.
This, she said, would make the culprit fully grasp the gravity of their sin.
“Otherwise, women will carry out abortions over and over again, bearing in mind that the Church will absolve their sin,” she said.
Abortion is a crime in Rwanda.
Article 162 of the penal code stipulates that any person who carries out self-induced abortion shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of between Rwf50,000 to Rwf200,000.
However, under article 165, the exemption from criminal liability is permitted only if the woman who seeks abortion submits to the doctor an order, issued by a competent court, recognising that the pregnancy is a result of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree or if the pregnancy jeopardises the health of the unborn baby or that of the pregnant woman.
A study conducted in 2012 by Health Development Initiative (HDI) estimated that as of 2009, 14 abortions occurred per 100 live births.
Télésphore Nzabazimana, the HDI’s programmes director, told this newspaper, last month, that in Africa, 60 per cent of unsafe abortions are among girls aged twenty five and younger.