Pope Francis has decreed that priests may absolve women of the "sin of a procured abortion" during the Holy Year next year, The Washington Post
Ordinarily, only bishops or the Pope himself can absolve people of the sin of abortion, which leads to excommunication from the Catholic Church. The move will empower priests to pardon women for having an abortion, while the Vatican will be sending out "missionaries of mercy" across the world.
"The missionaries of mercy are priests sent out by the Holy Father at the beginning of Lent. The Pope is sending them out [to dioceses and parishes] as a tangible sign of how a priest should be a man of pardon, close to everyone," Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and the Pope's point man on the organization of Holy Year, according to The Irish Times
Fisichella said that the absolution would be extended not only to women who had gotten an abortion, but also to doctors and health workers who had performed it.
The move would be significant given that the United Nations has previously condemned the church for excommunicating the mother and doctor of a 9-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil in 2009 after she was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant with twins, the Daily Mail
Some have been quick to point out that the Pope's decision to pardon abortion during the Holy Year does not change the church's position on abortion and that there's a risk of it causing confusion.
"Regardless of this decision by the Pope, the church will continue to consider abortion a sin. I hope it does not cause confusion," said Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, according to the Times.
The Pope has been a vocal opponent of abortion calling it "a sin against God," but the year of mercy is intended to reunite estranged Catholics with the church, the Post said.
In a papal bull issued last month, the Pope discussed the thinking behind the Jubilee of Mercy, saying the church must be "an oasis of mercy" and "The Church's very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love," the Post said.
"During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out 'Missionaries of Mercy,'" he said.
"They will be a sign of the Church's maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith.
"There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father's readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon."
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