The Vatican said that Pope Francis will allow priests the discretion to absolve women who have received abortions - an act still considered a grave sin by the Catholic Church - if they express regret and seek forgiveness from the Church.
The shift in policy is not going to be permanent, however. It will only apply for the Holy Year that runs from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.
“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,” the pontiff said in a letter published on the Vatican’s website Tuesday.
“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 the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” the pontiff’s statement continued.
Prior to this announcement, women who had had an abortion were automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church and required the permission of a bishop in order to lift the ban.
Clarifying the change, which initially appeared to signal an overruling of traditional Catholic thinking, the Vatican released a statement Tuesday.
“Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone nor minimize its grave effects,” it said.
“The newness is clearly Pope Francis’ pastoral approach. Many bishops have granted priests permission to forgive the sin. The fact that this statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis.
“That people come to confession today to confess abortion and other grave sins is cause for us in the Church to thank God and to put into practice the mission of the good and merciful shepherd who came to seek out those who were lost.”
Often viewed as progressive on a number of controversial issues, Pope Francis acknowledged the struggle that women receiving an abortion often endure.
“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision [to have an abortion],” said Pope Francis. “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.”
However, the Pope has previously denounced abortion, placing it alongside other facets of a throw-away culture.
According to the BBC, he said in 2014: “It’s horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day […] Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as unnecessary.”
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires (Argentina), is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, having succeeded Pope Benedict XVI following his resignation in February 2013.
The independent and not-for-profit Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI/ICIS) reports that a total of 82,869 induced abortions, defined as the medical termination of pregnancy, were recorded by hospitals and clinics across Canada in 2013.
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