Women who have had abortions can be forgiven by all Catholic priests, Pope Francis wrote in a letter published on Monday. The announcement is a continuation of a special dispensation he granted to clergymen during the “Year of Mercy” that came to an end on Sunday.
In the eyes of the Catholic Church, abortion remains a “grave sin,” Francis wrote. “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.”
Pope Francis launched the Year of Mercy last December with the aim of encouraging Catholics to show mercy and compassion. During that period, women were able to seek absolution or forgiveness for abortions from ordinary priests rather than only bishops. The decision was designed, in part, to make it easier for women who have had an abortion to re-enter the Church, and follows the Pope’s continued efforts of making the religious institution more inclusive.
In his letter, Francis said that women could continue to seek this forgiveness from regular priests for the foreseeable future. “May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation,” Francis wrote.
Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, a pro-choice Catholic advocacy group based in Washington D.C., wrote in a statement that while it was “sad” that Francis continues to frame abortion as a sin, his message should be welcomed.
O’Brien noted that Catholic women are not, generally, “lining up at local churches to ask for forgiveness.” Instead, he interpreted Francis’ letter as a message meant to cultivate “reconciliation” between women and clergy.
“Pope Francis’ real message today is perhaps not for women at all but rather for his brother bishops and priests who sometimes have seemed hell-bent on punishing Catholic women for their conscience-based decisions when they don’t comport with the hierarchy,” O’Brien wrote. “Perhaps Pope Francis is urging them to reconcile with women.”