Pope Francis has extended to all Roman Catholic priests the power to forgive abortion, according to an apostolic letter published on Monday.
The measure, previously in place temporarily for the duration of the just-ended Holy Year of Mercy, is now extended indefinitely.
"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," the pope wrote in the apostolic letter.
The right to forgive abortion was previously reserved only for bishops or special confessors.
Francis, however, stressed that “abortion is a grave sin since it puts an end to an innocent life,” but added “there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the [Heavenly] Father.”
The letter, entitled Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Misery), was signed by Francis at the end of a mass closing the Holy Year of Mercy on November 20 but released a day later.
"May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation," he wrote.
The forgiveness also extends to all those involved in the act of abortion.
Conservatives in the church have criticized Francis over this “flexible” attitude and willingness to adapt the Catholic teachings.
In the past, he has asked for mercy for those who are divorced and seeking to remarry adding that remarried couples should be able to receive communion.
The Argentine pope has repeatedly called for "a poor Church for the poor,” and also said gays should be respected but did not change the Church's position on same-sex unions, saying there are "no grounds" for its equation with heterosexual marriage.
On abortion, the pope has previously said, "No alleged right to one's own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end of itself."