The Pope orders Catholic priests to bestow a full pardon on women who have had an abortion and the doctors who performed them
- Abortion is a grave sin so only top officials or pilgrimages offer redemption
- Nine-year-old raped by stepfather excommunicated for abortion in 2009
- Pope now offers absolution for girls who have abortions and their doctors
- Part of a big drive to promote the church as full of mercy and compassion
Pope Francis has ordered Roman Catholic priests to bestow a full pardon on women who have committed a mortal sin by having an abortion.
Next year, both women who have had abortions, and doctors that have performed them, will be able to seek absolution, as part of a special Holy Year of Mercy decreed by the pope.
In the Catholic Church, abortion is considered one of the gravest sins and results in automatic excommunication. It can only be forgiven in certain special circumstances, by high-ranking clergy or by making a pilgrimage to Rome during a Holy Year.
Pope Francis is handed a child to bless on his first official trip outside Rome since taking the Papacy
But in a gesture of reconciliation the pope is for the first time to send ordinary priests as ‘missionaries of mercy’ all over the world with special powers to forgive even the most serious sins.
One of the organisers of the Jubilee Year Monsignor Rino Fisichella told a press conference that this included also abortion.
He said the pope meant the gesture ‘as a concrete sign that a priest must be a man of mercy and close to all.’
Those priests who apply to be missionaries must be especially skilled and ‘good confessors’, he said.
The theme of the Holy Year, which begins on December 8th, has been widely interpreted as a signal by Francis that the church should be less judgmental.
In a document known as a ‘bull of indiction’ explaining how he wants Catholic to celebrate the Jubilee year, the pope said that ‘the church must be ‘an oasis of mercy’.
It went on: ‘The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.’
The Pope pauses to bless a young child in St Peter's Square in the Vatican after a Palm Sunday service
The charismatic Pope Francis is proving popular, expressing a more progressive view on many Catholic beliefs that are seen as outdated and out of touch, such as those on contraception and abortion
The United Nations has previously condemned the Vatican for excommunicating the mother and doctor of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil in 2009 after she was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant with twins.
But the move is not likely to be approved universally. Italian cardinal Velasio De Paolis said it could cause ‘confusion’ among the faithful. He said: ‘Regardless of this decision by the pope, the church will continue to consider abortion a sin.
‘I hope it does not cause confusion.’
He told La Nazione: ‘He is the pope of mercy and wants to show the benevolence of the church towards sinners. This does not cancel the sin of abortion.’
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