Pope Fran­cis To Al­low Priests To For­give Women Who Had Abor­tions

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Isla Bin­nie (REUTERS) (Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Philip Pul­lella; edit­ing by Raissa Ka­solowsky.)

Pope Fran­cis will give all priests dis­cre­tion dur­ing the Ro­man Catholic Church’s up­com­ing Holy Year to for­mally for­give women who have had abor­tions, in the Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff’s latest move to­wards a more open and in­clu­sive church. In church teach­ing, abor­tion is such a grave sin that those who pro­cure or per­form it in­cur an au­to­matic ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Usu­ally only des­ig­nated clergy and mis­sion­ar­ies can for­mally for­give abor­tions.

But from De­cem­ber 8 to Novem­ber 26, dur­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary Holy Year or “Ju­bilee” on the theme of mercy an­nounced by Pope Fran­cis in March, all priests will be able to do so, he said in a let­ter pub­lished on Tues­day by the Vat­i­can. In the let­ter, Fran­cis de­scribed the “ex­is­ten­tial and moral or­deal” faced by women who have ter­mi­nated preg­nan­cies and said he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this ag­o­niz­ing and painful de­ci­sion.”

Fran­cis is the first non-Euro­pean pope in 1,300 years and has marked him­self out for his tol­er­ance re­gard­ing taboo top­ics. Although he has shown no in­ten­tion of re­tract­ing the church’s op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, he has alarmed con­ser­va­tives by tak­ing a less force­ful tone than his pre­de­ces­sors.

“This is by no means an at­tempt to min­i­mize the grav­ity of this sin but to widen the pos­si­bil­ity of show­ing mercy,” Vat­i­can chief spokesman Fa­ther Fed­erico Lom­bardi told re­porters.

Deputy Vat­i­can spokesman Fa­ther Ciro Benedet­tini said that “for now” the change would ap­ply only dur­ing the Holy Year.

Usu­ally only a bishop, mis­sion­ary or the chief con­fes­sor of a dio­cese, known by the Ital­ian term “pen­iten­ziere,” can for­mally for­give an abor­tion, Benedet­tini said.

The pope’s let­ter did not men­tion peo­ple who per­form abor­tions.

The Holy Year is one of the 1.2 bil­lion-mem­ber church’s most im­por­tant events, and sees faith­ful make pil­grim­ages to Rome and other re­li­gious sites around the world. It takes place ev­ery 25 years un­less a pope de­crees an ex­tra­or­di­nary one to bring at­ten­tion to a par­tic­u­lar topic or need.

In his let­ter the pope also said Holy Year ac­tiv­i­ties were open to ad­her­ents of the ul­tra­tra­di­tion­al­ist Ro­man Catholic splin­ter group known as the So­ci­ety of Saint Pius X (SSPX). The Swiss-based SSPX, which re­jects some of the re­forms made at the his­toric 1962-1965 Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil, de­fied Rome in 1988 by il­le­gally con­se­crat­ing four bish­ops, trig­ger­ing their ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion by the late Pope John Paul.

Pope Benedect lifted the ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tions in 2009 and made some con­ces­sions to the group. But one of the bish­ops, Bri­tish-born Bishop Richard Wil­liamson, caused an up­roar by deny­ing the Holo­caust.

The pope’s state­ment on abor­tion is be­low. The Vat­i­can has posted his full let­ter on its web­site.

“One of the se­ri­ous prob­lems of our time is clearly the changed re­la­tion­ship with re­spect to life. A wide­spread and in­sen­si­tive men­tal­ity has led to the loss of the proper per­sonal and so­cial sen­si­tiv­ity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abor­tion is ex­pe­ri­enced by some with a su­per­fi­cial aware­ness, as if not re­al­iz­ing the ex­treme harm that such an act en­tails. Many oth­ers, on the other hand, although ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this mo­ment as a de­feat, be­lieve that they have no other op­tion. I think in par­tic­u­lar of all the women who have re­sorted to 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. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this ag­o­niz­ing and painful de­ci­sion. What has hap­pened is pro­foundly un­just; yet only un­der­stand­ing the truth of it can en­able one not to lose hope. The for­give­ness of God can­not be de­nied to one who has re­pented, es­pe­cially when that per­son ap­proaches the Sacra­ment of Con­fes­sion with a sin­cere heart in or­der to ob­tain rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Fa­ther. For this rea­son too, 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. May priests ful­fil this great task by ex­press­ing words of gen­uine welcome com­bined with a re­flec­tion that ex­plains the grav­ity of the sin com­mit­ted, be­sides in­di­cat­ing a path of au­then­tic con­ver­sion by which to ob­tain the true and gen­er­ous for­give­ness of the Fa­ther who re­news all with his pres­ence.”

Pope Fran­cis penned let­ter on abor­tion last week.

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