VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has temporarily changed the way the Catholic Church treats women who have had an abortion, dropping the requirement that they have a bishop’s permission to lift the ban of their excommunication.
Now, women who’ve had an abortion and anyone who helped them get one will be forgiven of what the Church still considers a sin, as long as they confess to having had the procedure or assisting someone in getting it.
The shift isn’t going to last forever — it only applies for the Holy Year that runs from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.
Before the Pope’s change in policy, women who’d had an abortion were automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church and needed the permission of a bishop in order to lift that ban.
The Vatican issued this statement Tuesday, clarifying the change.
“Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects,” it said. “The newness is clearly Pope Francis’ pastoral approach. Many bishops have granted priests permission to forgive the sin. The fact that this statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis.
“That people come to confession today to confess abortion and other grave sins is cause for us in the Church to thank God and to put into practice the mission of the good and merciful shepherd who came to seek out those who were lost.”
Many women ‘believe that they have no other option’
“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision,” the Pope said of women who’ve had an abortion, in a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican.
Many women, the Pope said, “believe that they have no other option.”
“I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” the letter said.
Pope Francis’ decree does not change Catholic Church teachings about the gravity of the sin of abortion, which Church law calls a “moral evil.”