Pope Francis has officially allowed all priests to forgive abortions for the foreseeable future. Through an apostolic letter released Monday, the Holy See confirmed the intervention of a bishop would not be needed to forgive those women who have prematurely terminated their pregnancies. Though the women can seek forgiveness, the Catholic Church still considers the act of abortion a “grave sin.”
What began on a temporary basis last year has been given an indefinite extension by Pope Francis. The change was implemented last December as part of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Mercy.” Though the year ended on Sunday, the Pontiff hasn’t rescinded the decree bestowing the power on priests that allowed them to forgive abortions. In the letter released Monday, the pope confirmed the change was being extended indefinitely.
“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 has always been pro-life and anti-abortion. In fact, the Vatican has always considered the act of terminating a pregnancy “a grave moral evil.” Needless to say, many Catholic pro-life groups have long relied on the Church’s clear opinion on the matter. For centuries, the Church has strongly maintained that every human life has to be considered sacred. According to the Church, life begins at the moment of conception and is valid till the person’s death. Hence, any Catholic who avails an abortion incurs automatic excommunication. Under such extreme conditions, such a harsh penalty can only be lifted by a bishop.
According to the Church, the bishop could either hear the woman’s confession himself or ask a priest, who he considered to be an expert on the delicate matter, to hear her appeal and grant forgiveness. Interestingly, more often than not, the majority of the bishops who received clemency requests had forwarded the cases to their priests, reported the Catholic News Service. The Year of Mercy merely made the permission universal and eliminated the delay associated with the mercy requests reaching the priests through the bishops.
During the initial change in the way forgiveness about abortions was handled, Pope Francis had said, “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented.” In the letter released Monday, he extended the provision, “lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness.” It is apparent he was indirectly referring to the formalities associated with the process.
Last year, several Church officials had persistently indicated that Pope Francis would choose to continue with the altered policy and ensure it is held valid in perpetuity. While Pope Francis hasn’t categorically mentioned that the decision will stay valid forever, his words do indicate the same. He has been one of the most forgiving of Popes till date, and also attempted to take the Church in a more merciful direction, reported CNN. While his predecessors skirted the thorny issues about gays and lesbians, and divorced Catholics, Pope Francis has actively and kindly handled them.
Incidentally, the Church’s position on abortions hasn’t changed, noted several religious experts. The Church still considers abortion a sin. However, the Holy See has merely simplified the path to seek forgiveness.
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