Pope Francis has shifted the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion, following the arrival of the Church’s Year of Mercy.
Earlier, women who have had abortions – considered a grave sin by the church – were considered automatically excommunicated, and only a bishop could lift the ban.
However, the Pope’s new policy, for the upcoming Year of Mercy – a centuries-old Catholic practice during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins – has instructed that priests forgive abortion.
In his Year of Mercy letter to the Church released on Tuesday, the pope referred to abortion as an existential and moral ordeal.
“One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life,” he wrote.
“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.
“I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well-aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”
Relating his experience with many women who had taken an abortion, the pope said the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to someone who has repented.
“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.
“May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”
The church’s mercy year begins on December 8 and runs through November 20, 2016.