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The Catholic Church will allow priests to forgive the sin of abortion during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In his latest letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis decided to grant Catholic priests worldwide the capacity to absolve sin or grant forgiveness to women who committed abortion. According to the Vatican, the Pope’s decision is in line with the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy which will be celebrated from December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016.

Such opportunity will only be made available during the upcoming Holy year. The Pope wants to emphasize mercy to women who according to the pontiff have suffered “an existential and moral ordeal.” In the letter, the pontiff cites that he has meet several women who had been suffering emotionally and spiritually especially those who had no choice but resort to abortion. The Pope explains that “What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”

But the Pope clarified that such especial forgiveness will not be available to all. It will only be granted to women who are sincere in asking for forgiveness: “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. 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.”

Abortion is one of the top sins and considered a crime for the Catholic Church. It is one of the grounds for the excommunication of those who committed it. A person may be granted confession and forgiveness or the removal of penalty but traditionally, such decision is only made by the top church leaders like bishops, high ranking chaplains and the Pope.

Such move by Pope Francis has instantly become the subject of debate particularly between the liberal and conservative groups within the Catholic Church. For the liberal Catholics, it’s a positive sign that the church is already opening its mind on the issue of abortion. On the other hand, conservatives think that it highlights the idea of abortion being a mortal sin including the need for those who have committed it to approach their priests and avail of the sacrament of confession.

Others consider it as the Pope’s implicit way of reacting to the abortion controversy in the United States wherein the group Planned Parenthood is suspected of selling organs of aborted babies to research institutions. Pope Francis is scheduled to have a week-long visit to the United States from September 22.

But several religious experts like Professor Candida R. Moss of the University of Notre Dame want to stress that the recent papal move should not be interpreted as a “doctrinal shift” for the Catholic Church especially in its teachings about abortion. The Catholic Church is not accepting and neither encouraging abortion by ensuring forgiveness. According to Moss, it only serves as “a kind of information alert for a group of disenfranchised women who have felt unwelcome by the Church.”

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