Pope Francis will give all priests discretion during the Roman Catholic Church’s upcoming Holy Year to formally forgive women who have had abortions, in the Argentine pontiff’s latest move towards a more open and inclusive church.
In Church teaching, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication. Usually only designated clergy and missionaries can formally forgive abortions.
But from Dec.8 to Nov. 26, during an extraordinary Holy Year or “Jubilee” on the theme of mercy announced by Pope Francis in March, all priests will be able to do so, he said in a letter published on Tuesday by the Vatican.
In the letter, Francis described the “existential and moral ordeal” faced by women who have terminated pregnancies and said he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision”.
Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and has marked himself out for his tolerance regarding taboo topics. Although he has shown no intention of retracting the Church’s opposition to abortion, he has alarmed conservatives by taking a less forceful tone than his predecessors.