On Monday, Pope Francis granted all Catholic priests the ability to forgive abortions.
Pope Francis introduced the change last December as a part of the Year of Mercy, meaning it was only meant to be temporary. During the Year of Mercy, which ran from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, members of the Catholic Church were able to receive special absolution for their sins. However, once the Year of Mercy ended, Pope Francis decided to extend the change indefinitely.
The Pope made the announcement in an apostolic letter, Monday.
“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary,” he wrote.
Despite this shift, the Pope asserted that abortion is still 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. 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," the letter states. "May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”
It is important to note that the Catholic Church sees abortion as not only a sin—a grave sin—but as a crime. The punishment for such a crime is latae sententiae—or automatic—excommunication. In the past, the only way to lift an excommunication was through a bishop. However, since 1983, the majority of bishops in the U.S. had already granted priests the power to forgive abortions. During the Year of Mercy, this power was extended to all priests across the globe. And now, under Pope Francis’ new order, priests will be able to hold on to that extension of power for the foreseeable future.