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.
Pope Francis said on Tuesday that during a special 'year of mercy', he’s designated that all priests would have the right to hear confession for abortion – a statement that immediately set off debate among theologians and canon lawyers over whether the pope’s comments were symbolic or reflected an actual change in Catholic Church practice.
In a letter, Pope Francis said he would allow all priests to formally forgive women who have had abortions and seek absolution during the Roman Catholic Church’s upcoming Holy Year.
The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a sin that could be grounds for excommunication. Women in the Catholic Church who have had abortions have been able to confess, but the pope has expanded the number of priests who can hear their confession during the upcoming year that will be considered a 'year of mercy.'
In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis said the new rules would extend to women during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a special year for Catholics to receive blessing and pardon from God, a period that will begin on Dec. 8.
“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.
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.
I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision, I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal." Pope Francis wrote in his letter, according to the Vatican.
The Catholic Church has called jubilee years every 25 or 50 years since the year 1300. The pope announced in May that he would be empowering 'missionaries of mercy' to pardon women for having abortions. He is now emphasizing that all priests can forgive during this special year.
The pope also said that a Catholic who confesses during the year to a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway group, will still be considered forgiven, writing, "This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one."
As has become common with Pope Francis’ moves, the Vatican’s announcement prompted debate about what his real motivation was. Liberals saw him downplaying the sin of abortion by advertising primarily the availability of confession and forgiveness. Conservatives saw him bringing in a more traditional group and the power of priests.
Church officials tried to clarify what, in fact was new. Technically, some said, bishops have to 'give' the priests in their community the right to hear all confessions. It wasn’t immediately clear if there are any priests in the world who don’t have this permission, but the point Francis was making, a spokesman said, was to emphasize that it is available.
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