Pope Francis announced Tuesday that all priests will be able to forgive abortions – including both the women undergoing and the doctors performing the procedure – during the upcoming Holy Year.
Beginning in the Holy Year – otherwise known as the Jubilee, a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon – all priests will have the “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.” Normally, absolving abortions can only be done by a designated clergy or missionaries.
The move is expected to stun hard-line Christians, since Catholicism teaches that abortion is a serious sin and that those who undergo or perform the procedure should be automatically excommunicated.
In a message outlining his decision, the pope said he is “well aware of the pressure that has led (women) to this decision ... I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.” He also added that he has “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”
However, the pontiff fell short of supporting a pro-choice position, suggesting that the procedure is only appropriate in some instances and “superficial” in others.
“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness ... many others ... believe that they have no other option,” he said.
In a special communique, the Vatican also stressed that widening the ability to absolve abortions “is by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin but to widen the possibility of showing mercy,” chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters.
In Pope Francis' short time in the Vatican, he has already spoken out on a number of progressive issues, including rights for the poor and declaring that caring for the environment is a moral duty – issues on which the Catholic Church has normally remained mute.
The extension of pardoning powers is, so far, only expected to last for the Holy Year, which runs from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, according to the Vatican.