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, which can only be lifted by designated church officials.
However, from December 8 to November 26, during an extraordinary Holy Year or “Jubilee” on the theme of mercy, all priests will be able to do so if the women repent “with a contrite heart”, the pope said in a letter published by the Vatican yesterday.
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”.
The pope’s letter did not mention those who perform abortions.
Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and has marked himself out for tolerance on 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.
“This is by no means an attempt to minimise the gravity of this sin, but to widen the possibility of showing mercy,” Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters.
Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said that “for now” the change would apply only during the Holy Year.
Usually only a bishop, missionary or the chief confessor of a diocese can offer absolution for an abortion, Benedettini said, although bishops in countries such as the United States and Britain, have delegated this authority to parish priests.