Pope Francis is calling for priests to absolve women of the “sin of abortion” during the upcoming "Holy Year of Mercy," a move that breaks with the traditional stance of the Roman Catholic Church.
In a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican before the Jubilee year starting in December, the pope said he knew "abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness," but that many others "believe that they have no other option." He declared priests can give absolution to women who "repent with a "contrite heart."
The Argentine pontiff said he is "well aware of the pressure" some women face in order to abort, adding that he had "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision."
The Catholic Church views abortion as a serious sin, punishable by excommunicating and expelling those guilty from the Church and condemning them to hell in the afterlife.
Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first to show tolerance regarding taboo topics, although he has shown no intention of retracting the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion.
The Pope has alarmed conservatives within the Church for speaking on the issue with a less forceful tone than his predecessors.
Francis said God's forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and therefore gave all priests the power to absolve the sin in the "Holy Year of Mercy," which runs from December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016.