Pope Francis released a letter on Monday, November 21, 2016, that extends the powers of Catholic priests to forgive abortions.
Starting December 8, 2015, the Catholic Church practiced the Year of Mercy, the hallmark of which was the forgiveness of abortions. The Year of Mercy, described as “a widening of the church’s mercy,” officially ran through yesterday, November 20, 2016. This new announcement from the Pope extends the practice of forgiveness for abortions indefinitely.
In his letter, Pope Francis does not mince words about the severity of the damage caused by abortion, calling it “a grave sin.” However, his reasoning behind his position is 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.” He calls the forgiveness of abortion a “journey of special reconciliation” between the person and God.
The Catholic Church’s Catechism makes the church’s position on abortion clear, calling it an “abominable crime,” because “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” The Catechism also states that “formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.” Last year, in a show of empathy and mercy, Pope Francis called attention to the “agony and pain” women must feel when they make the decision to abort a child. Furthermore, the Pope insists “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented.”
The theme of mercy is a hallmark of Pope Francis’s leadership. When he first became a bishop, Francis adopted the motto “miserando atque eligendo,” which can be translated “with eyes of mercy.”
This announcement about abortion falls in line with the more gospel-oriented position Pope Francis has taken over a number of issues in the church. He is known for being very different from his predecessors, particularly in his emphasis on reaching out to those on the margins of the church.