I am a lifelong practicing Catholic. Here is what this is REALLY about:
Abortions used to be relatively rare (despite what feminists argue). When a Catholic woman had an abortion:
- IF she knew the Canon Law covering it, she was AUTOMATICALLY excommunicated.
- Excommunication means that she was still a Catholic, she was NOT damned to hell, but - she could not partake of the sacraments until she repented, and sought forgiveness (funnily enough, this punishment did NOT remove the requirement that she continue attending church).
- A priest could forgive her IF she was ignorant of the rule against abortions, and did not realize she would be forbidden to receive the sacraments. Unlikely, if she was educated in Catholic schools in the old days. Possible, for those with education dating from the 70's onward.
- Normally, an excommunication had to make its way through official church channels, before landing in the bishop's lap (for things like abortions, he could lift the excommunication - for more serious offenses, it had to continue on up the ladder, perhaps even to the pope).
Priests - before this clarification, could, with the bishop's permission, lift the penalties for an abortion, if the penitent came to them. Now, it's automatic that the priest can handle it on his own discretion.
NOT a major change. Feel free to correct the ill-informed about this.