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Pope to allow Holy Year abortion forgiveness

September 1, 2015

Pope Francis is to temporarily allow priests to formally pardon women who have had abortions, if they seek forgiveness. The ritual can be performed during the church's Jubilee Year, which runs from December 8.

Image: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

By making the call, Pope Francis has potentially ignited a row with hardline traditionalists within the Catholic Church, over an evocative issue in the religion's doctrines.

In a letter released on Tuesday, the pontiff requested that women who have abortions - and the doctors who perform them - can be pardoned, during the church's self-declared "Jubilee Year," which runs for most of next year.

According to Catholic doctrine, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it are automatically excommunicated. But under special rules created for the "Holy Year of Mercy," all priests will be able to forgive those who have terminated pregnancies.

"I am thinking especially of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressures that have led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral tragedy," his letter said.

"I have decided...that during the Jubilee Year, all priests will have the faculty to absolve from the sin of abortion, all who have committed it and who ask forgiveness with heartfelt penance," Francis wrote.

Temporary rule change

In Roman Catholicism, the Jubiliee is a special year of remission of sin and universal pardon, called every 25 or 50 years. The next one will run for 12 months, starting on December 8th.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged the Vatican to show greater compassion, telling priests to use "words of genuine welcome." But church insiders say he shows no intention of permanently retracting the Church's opposition to abortion.

On Tuesday, the pontiff also opened the door to a rebel ultra-traditionalist group which refuses to recognize 1960s church reforms such as the abolition of Latin mass and steps to improve Catholic-Jewish relations.

Expressing hope that the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) would be reintegrated in the mainsream Catholic Church, the pope said SSPX priests woud be entitled to hand out absolutions during the jubilee, just like ordinary Catholic priests.

mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)