The precise reason Padre Pio refused absolution to a woman who had an abortion and why he eventually granted her absolution

Throughout my adult life I've been surrounded by young female friends who tell me that they view me as a Latin Mass Catholic who takes sin and the sin of abortion in particular too seriously. They wear rictus smiles and claim it's not really so dire a sin when a woman employs a doctor to slaughter the little one inside her because she wants to prioritise her career or doesn't want a child with her current boyfriend. Or they reiterate the reason that I heard from the lips of hundreds of women when I was with them during their crisis pregnancies: that they can have a baby and provide for one, but they do not feel ready. 

In response I have often tried to defend the Church's teachings on the gravity of abortion as a mortal sin by reminding my coffee companions and colleagues that Padre Pio took the sin of abortion so deathly seriously that he was known to have refused absolution if a penitent confessed to having had an abortion.

While this has led to the smiles melting from faces and shocked silence (and to my temporary satisfaction at having had the last word) I have unwittingly portrayed abortion as the unforgivable sin. In wider circles of the global Catholic Church if most people assume that Padre Pio never gave absolution when a woman or man confessed involvement in procuring or having an abortion, it may discourage post-abortion women (and men) from confessing abortion, they may think it is a stain on their soul that can never be wiped clean. They may also feel painfully at odds with Padre Pio, if the great mystic refused absolution to others, had they darkened his confessional, would he do the same to them?  

I wanted to find if Padre Pio ever granted absolution to someone who confessed abortion and if so what were his reasons for doing so. In the case I will relate Padre Pio refused absolution to a woman who had had an abortion - but some time later - Padre Pio granted absolution to the very same woman.

It was the late Dónal Enright who gave me his eye-witness account.  Dónal was a dear friend of Padre Pio's. As his name suggests, Dónal was an Irishman who hailed from the same part of Ireland that I hail from, Cork. During Padre Pio's lifetime, Dónal spent many long days at San Giovanni de Rotondo, ever ready to lend assistance to Padre Pio mostly by comforting and be-friending penitents who were trying to save their souls with the help of Padre Pio's window to their souls, enlightening them as to what they had done wrong and what they needed to confess. 

When he was still living I visited Dónal at his home in County Cork, I asked him pointedly if he had known a woman who had been refused absolution because of having had an abortion. Dónal told me of one such post-abortion woman who gave him permission to re-tell her story. 

Dónal first met her mere minutes after she had left Padre Pio's confessional.  She was in great emotional distress having been refused absolution. She was, however, receptive to meeting Dónal who greeted her calmly with his soft Irish lilt. Dónal offered her the chance to talk things over with him and she agreed.  Dónal did not pry - and did not ask prying questions - an atypical Irishman one might say. But the lady felt at ease in his company and volunteered the information that she had suffered much following her abortion, and knowing it was a sin, she took it with her to Padre Pio's confessional, but Padre Pio had refused her absolution by saying to her, "you are not truly sorry for your sin". This is the key: Padre Pio could see her soul and could see that she was not sufficiently contrite or "truly sorry" to use Pio's exact words. 

Emotional guilt, the sort that causes distress and depression and genuine contrition where we are sincerely sorry to God for offending Him - are different and in their pure forms entirely separate phenomena.  After being refused absolution, the lady had to pray for contrition. Interestingly, it is when offering the Mystery of the Rosary 'The Scourging at the Pillar' that we ask for true contrition for our sins. In my view true contrition and the personal cultivation of it has not gotten much attention in the Year of Mercy which ends this November.

True contrition did not come easily to the lady in question. She struggled for months: she was firmly of the mind that her post-abortion guilt was the same thing as contrition for her sin. Dónal (and I'm sure Padre Pio) prayed very much for the lady. It took her one whole year - but she developed true contrition which entailed  sorry to God for arranging the death of her little one who had not asked to be conceived. When the searing ache of true contrition pierced her soul, she returned to Padre Pio's confessional and once again confessed to having had an abortion.  On this occasion, Pio did not refrain from granting her absolution, and said, "now you are truly sorry, I can give you absolution".

I wrote this article for the current edition of The Latin Mass Society Magazine, the Winter 2016 edition. It is the first edition under our new editor Tom Quinn, and you may read the entirety of the mag here