Pope Francis shook up the Catholic world — again — on Tuesday by announcing that priests around the world will be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” when the church begins a “Year of Mercy” this December.
“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” the Pope said, adding that he has met “many women” scarred by the “agonizing and painful” decision to have an abortion.
The pontiff said the women should be granted absolution during the Jubilee year of Mercy which starts on December, 8.
The gravity of abortion, according to the church, is likened to attacking a bishop or desecrating the Eucharist. Tuesday’s announcement, however, did not change the belief but sought to relieve affected women of the burden for the specific period of the Jubilee year – December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016.
According to CBS News, the decree was contained in a letter Pope sent to the head of Jubilee initiatives, Archibishop Rino Fisichella.
It read, “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.
“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision.”
The President of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome, Fr. Robert Dodaro, commended the development, describing Francis as being compassionate.
He said, “I think this is big and very positive news. Pope Francis is showing enormous compassion for people in difficult situations. He has always been very strong on the sacrament of penance, and he continues to develop what has been a strong theme in his papacy, which is that God is always ready to forgive, and we should not place obstacles in the way.”
CBS News reports that reserved sins carry automatic excommunication, which means that the person is banned from all Catholic sacraments, including the sacrament of penance (confession).
Church law says that when a woman has an abortion she and all those who aided her, including doctors, nurses and spouses, are automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
If a woman (or an accomplice) confesses the abortion, an ordinary priest is not allowed to grant absolution, but has to ask the local bishop for permission.
In May, the Vatican took the first step in this direction, announcing the creation of a special team of priests for the Jubilee called “missionaries of mercy,” who would be granted the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion. But Tuesday’s announcement goes further, making the absolution universally available.