In what could be described as shocking, the 266th and current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has granted Catholic priests the power to forgive abortions, instead of requiring the intervention of a bishop.
In an apostolic letter released Monday, the pope announced that the change was being extended indefinitely.
The change was implemented on a temporary basis, for one year only, as part of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Mercy,” which began last December and ended on Sunday.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, the “Year of Mercy” is a period during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins.
The letter reads: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.
“May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.
“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.”
The Catholic Church historically deemed abortion so great a sin that those who undertook them or carried them out were automatically excommunicated.
In the past, only a bishop or a special confessor could grant absolution for an abortion in most parts of the world.
Pope Francis, who is also the Bishop of Rome, and Sovereign of the Vatican City, had in an interview last year described the “existential and moral ordeal” faced by women who have terminated pregnancies and said he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision”.
He also said last year that priests around the world would be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” for the duration of the Church’s Year of Mercy, which ran from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.