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Pope to Allow Holy Year Pardon for Abortion

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel, Sept.1, 2015.

Pope Francis will give all priests discretion to formally forgive women who have had abortions and seek absolution during the Roman Catholic Church's upcoming Holy Year, in the Argentine pontiff's latest move toward a more open and inclusive church.

In a letter published by the Vatican Tuesday, Francis wrote, "I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision."

The pope said he had "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision."

In church teaching, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication.

"For this reason, too, I have decided ... 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," Francis wrote.

It can usually only be formally forgiven by the chief confessor of a diocese — known by the Italian term "penitenziere" — or a Christian missionary, Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said.