Pope relaxes abortion stance 

Pope relaxes abortion stance 

Pope Francis. Source: Flickr


Pope Francis has extended the power of priests to forgive the “grave sin” of abortion, one of his key reforms to the Catholic Church. 

Allowing priests to forgive women who have had abortions and medics involved in the process is largely symbolic. The power to forgive penitents for abortion is formally reserved for bishops, but many bishops have already conceded that authority to their priests.

Pope Francis’s statement said he hoped to help the sacrament of confession “regain its central place in the Christian life” so that “everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness”.

He added that it remained a grave sin in the eyes of the church to “end an innocent life”.

“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, the Pope wrote.

He, however, added: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.”

It is an ongoing theme of his papacy. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,“ Pope Francis said in 2013. “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella told the media that priests would also have the power to lift the excommunication automatically incurred by anyone who had an abortion or who performed the procedure.

An Italian anti-abortion lobby group argued that some priests might trivialise abortion. Gian Luigi Gigli, president of the Movement for Life, said women or medics who confessed to abortion should be given penance with volunteer work at the group’s centres that work to prevent abortion.

The move was seen as the Pope applying his vision of a merciful church, reflecting his experience as archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina. In 2015 he wrote that some women felt they had no choice but to make “this agonising and painful decision”.

Francis called on every priest to “be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation”.

Carter Snead of the Centre for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame said priests hearing the confessions already had “a longstanding practice in the United States and several other countries” of offering compassion.

He said Francis was therefore reminding priests “that the core message of the right-to-life movement is one of radical hospitality, mercy and unconditional love for every member of the human family, including mothers and fathers whose lives have been broken by abortion and who now seek forgiveness”.

During the US presidential election campaign, some Catholic priests urged their congregations to remember the “sacredness in life” when voting. Donald Trump voiced opposition to abortion during his successful campaign, while Democrat Hillary Clinton supported the right to have an abortion.

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