Pope Francis has declared that abortion, which remains a “grave sin” in the eyes of the Catholic Church, can be forgiven by ordinary priests for the foreseeable future — instead of requiring the intervention of a bishop.
The announcement was made in an apostolic letter released on Monday, November 21, 2016.
Francis wrote in Misericordia et misera, an apostolic letter concluding the Year of Mercy, that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach,” while staunchly reiterating that “abortion is a grave sin.”
“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” the pope wrote in the letter.
“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 seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”
“Because the Roman Catholic Church holds abortion to be such a serious sin, it had long put the matter of granting forgiveness for it in the hands of a bishop, who could either hear the woman’s confession himself or delegate that to a priest who was expert in such situations,” The Associated Press explains.
In the letter, the Pope also extended his decree that allow SSPX priests to hear valid confessions.
“For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins,” he wrote.
“For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.”
In the U.S., Catholic News Service reports that most bishops have routinely granted the faculty to their priests, but the Year of Mercy made the permission universal.