The new pronouncement is only good for the upcoming Jubilee Year, but during it any priest can offer forgiveness for abortion without the approval of higher prelates.
Pope Francis will allow Roman Catholic priests to absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.
The pontiff said he will allow priests “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it” during the special year, beginning Dec. 8.
“I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision,” he wrote in the announcement. “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”
Abortion is considered a grave sin by the Catholic church, and those who seek it are usually excommunicated. In normal circumstances, forgiveness can only be granted by senior church figures.
Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini told Reuters that "for now" the change would apply only during the Holy Year. The pope's letter did not mention people who perform abortions.
Pope Francis announced in March that the holy Year, which runs until Nov. 20, 2016, was a way to promote inclusiveness, saying the church could "make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy."
In a letter published online on Tuesday, he said: "The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us."
He also offered an olive branch to Catholics who worship with a breakaway group called the Fraternity of St Pius X. "I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the fraternity," he wrote.
John L. Allen Jr., a Catholic commentator and associate editor of the Crux website, said the pope's announcement should not be seen as a change to official teaching.
Source: NBC News