Saying that he wants to emphasize mercy, Pope Francis announced that during the church's upcoming holy year, he will allow all priests to forgive women who have had abortions.
In a letter published Tuesday, Francis said he understands that some people approach abortions with "superficial awareness." But for others, it's a struggle that deserves deep reflection. The pontiff concludes:
"I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."
Reuters reports that in the Catholic church, abortion is a grave sin that calls for excommunication. In the past, it was only senior church officials who could offer forgiveness.
Back in March, Pope Francis announced a jubilee year called the Holy Year of Mercy. As the National Catholic Reporter explained, these special years have been convoked by the church every 25 or 50 years since the year 1300.
"The last jubilee year was held in 2000 during the papacy of Pope John Paul II and was known as 'the Great Jubilee.' The last extraordinary jubilee year was held in 1983 to celebrate 1,950 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus.
"Francis ... said the new jubilee would begin on this year's Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated Dec. 8. It will close on Nov. 20, 2016, the day celebrated that year as the feast of Christ the King."
Update at 11:17 a.m. ET. Not A Doctrinal Shift:
Candida R. Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, says it's important to note that this does not mark a "doctrinal shift" in the Church's teachings on abortion.
"It does serve as a kind of information alert for a group of disenfranchised women who have felt unwelcome by the Church," Moss said. "Even though John Paul II used much the same language and forgiveness has always been available — albeit through more formal channels — that message wasn't out there because the rhetoric that accompanies abortion is so elevated that it eclipses the Church's teaching on forgiveness and mercy."