Pope Francis will allow priests discretion to absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness during the upcoming Holy Year beginning Dec. 8, the Vatican announced in a statement Tuesday.
“One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life,” the pope wrote in the English-language version of his letter, in which he described the “existential and moral ordeal” of women who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies.
Remarking that he has met with many women who have faced this decision, Francis said that women “who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision” deserve the forgiveness of God if they seek it.
“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father,” Francis wrote.
“For this reason too, 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 pontiff went on. “May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”
The latest message comes weeks before the pope is set to visit the United States, where the debate over the legal status of abortion has continued for more than 40 years since the Supreme Court’s decision inRoe v. Wade, and has intensified in recent months with videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of tissues from aborted fetuses.
While he’s in the U.S., Francis will stop in Washington, D.C., and New York before traveling to Philadelphia.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush weighed in on Francis’ statement on Tuesday morning, saying that he was not surprised and that “we could all use a lot of mercy in this world.”
“I hope that we also focus on mercy for the unborn, the hundreds of thousands of babies that will die,” the former governor of Florida said in a Fox News interview. “I think we need to have a society that protects life from the beginning to end, and we should be a repentant society, for sure.”