Pope Francis extends power of priests to forgive abortion

Writing in an Apostolic Letter promulgated by the Vatican on Monday that there exists 'no sin that God's mercy cannot reach,' Pope Francis has extended indefinitely the special permission he had granted to priests to absolve Catholics for abortion.

Tiziana Fabi/Reuters
Pope Francis closes the Holy Door to mark the closing of the Catholic Jubilee year of mercy at the in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday.

Pope Francis has extended indefinitely the ability of all priests to absolve Catholic women of the "grave sin" of abortion, a power previously held only by bishops or specially designated priests. 

The pope had originally granted temporary permission to forgive abortion to all rank-and-file priests during the Holy Year of Mercy, beginning in December of 2015 and ending on Sunday. On Monday, he extended that permission indefinitely, writing in the Apostolic Letter made public by the Vatican 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 God.

While Francis wrote of the importance of priests serving as a "guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation" for women who undergo the procedure, he was also careful to emphasize that the extension should not be interpreted as the church changing its stance on abortion, writing, "I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life." 

Still, the indefinite extension – as well as the announcement in 2015 that priests would temporarily be allowed to forgive abortions – reflects Francis's vision of a more merciful church, an ongoing theme throughout his papacy. As Harry Bruinius reported for The Christian Science Monitor last year: 

The move represents another example of what has become a hallmark of Francis’ papacy: promoting a more pastoral tone amid the culture-clashing issues of same-sex relationships, the status of divorced Catholics, and now abortion.

Although Catholic teaching condemns each of these in the strongest terms, Francis has often emphasized compassion and the need for the church to continue to minister to those Catholics who may not measure up to its moral teachings.

Conservative Catholics have bristled at some of these pastoral emphases, decrying what many perceive to be a more liberalized direction for the church – including Francis’ controversial encyclical on climate change.

But Monsignor Rino Fisichella, a top Holy See official, rejected the idea that the extension put abortion on the same level as lesser sins. 

"There is no type of laxness here," he told reporters on Monday, as reported by NBC News.

Francis's original decision to grant priests the power to forgive abortions during the Holy Year of Mercy, while significant, did not mark a "doctrinal shift" for the church, Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., told NPR last year.

"Forgiveness has always been available — albeit through more formal channels," she said. "That message wasn't out there because the rhetoric that accompanies abortion is so elevated that it eclipses the Church's teaching on forgiveness and mercy."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Pope Francis extends power of priests to forgive abortion
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today