Pope Francis on Sept. 1 told priests to forgive repentant women who had had an abortion. CNS photo/Emilio Naranjo, EPA

For Year of Mercy, Pope asks priests to forgive abortion

By  Rosie Scammell, Religion News Service
  • September 1, 2015

VATICAN - Pope Francis on Sept. 1 told priests to forgive repentant women who had had an abortion, specifically during the year-long jubilee celebration of Catholic faith, which begins in December.

In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the pontiff urges priests to express “words of genuine welcome” to repentant women who have undergone abortions, “combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed.”

“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,” the Pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council.

The Catholic Church deems abortion a "moral evil" and “gravely contrary to the moral law.” A person who co-operates in an abortion should be excommunicated under canon law, although that person can be welcomed back into the Church if they are truly repentant and ask for forgiveness.

While the papal letter does not change Church doctrine, it brings to the fore an issue Francis has talked little about during his papacy. In writing to Fisichella, the Pope addressed “the tragedy of abortion” and said some people do not realize the “extreme harm” caused by terminating a pregnancy.

Francis also turned at length to women who believe they have no other option but to go through with an abortion.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal,” the Pope wrote. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

A person who has confessed “with a sincere heart” and is repentant cannot be denied forgiveness, the Pope said.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, assistant to the Vatican press office, said the Pope’s statement showed a pastoral approach to abortion.

“Many bishops have granted priests permission to forgive the sin,” he said. “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.”

The letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the Pope to focus on inclusion. In August, Pope Francis called for the Church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, saying such couples “always belong to the Church.”

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