Pope Francis grants Catholic priests the power to forgive abortions

But the Catholic Church still considers the act a "grave sin"

Pope Francis grants Catholic priests the power to forgive abortions

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican | Image: Alessandra Tarantino / AP/Press Association Images

The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has decreed that while abortion remains a “grave sin,” priests now have the permanent right to forgive women who undergo the procedure.

The pontiff’s remarks come at the end of the Catholic Church’s jubilee year, a period during which clerics who hear confessions had been temporarily granted the power to absolve the act, long considered taboo in the eyes of the faithful.

Writing in an Apostolic letter, Pope Francis reconfirmed that the act of abortion was still a “grave sin” for ending an “innocent life,” and that Catholic women who have the procedure, and any Catholic involved in performing it, can be immediately excommunicated from the Church.

“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 Pope wrote, in a letter beginning with two stories of Jesus encountering sinful women. “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.”

As such, the Pope is now extending indefinitely the temporary provision of the Year of Mercy, which had been scheduled to come to an end next month. Prior to this, women had to make direct appeals to bishops in order to receive forgiveness for abortions.

Speaking to the BBC, a Vatican spokesperson states that “there is no type of laxness here” in terms of whether this decision represents a shift in Catholic dogma concerning the moral implications of abortion. Instead, priests have been given the power to forgive all acts in the name of God.

“May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special recognition,” Pope Francis said.

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