Declaring that the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy “excludes no one,” Pope Francis issued a letter Tuesday outlining a special outreach to women who have had abortions, prisoners, the sick and elderly, and religious groups who have had a rocky relationship with Rome.
Francis’ letter spoke about indulgences that will be available to the faithful during the upcoming Jubilee Year, which begins Dec. 8.
He said that the letter, addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is overseeing implementation of the Jubilee, was meant to “focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.”
“It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective,” the Pope wrote.
What has caught the attention of the mainstream media is the Pope’s decision to extend for the duration of the Jubilee year to all priests the ability to absolve women who have had abortions. Normally, the faculty of absolving such a serious sin has been reserved to the bishop of a diocese.
One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion.
The Pontiff said he is aware of the pressure that has led some women to abort. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision,” he said. “What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”
He emphasized that forgiveness will come to those who repent, “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. 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.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters the decision is “by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin but to widen the possibility of showing mercy.”
The pope’s letter did not mention people who perform abortions, but the phrasing “those who have procured it” may be a catch-all for to abortionists, nurses and boyfriends or others who facilitate the procedure.
Crux reported that Vatican officials, speaking on background, said that the concession did not represent a change to Catholic teaching, in that both abortion is still regarded as sinful.
But the move is not unprecedented, the website pointed out: “During the 2011 edition of “World Youth Day,” a Vatican-sponsored youth festival that takes place in a different city every two or three years, priests were granted the power by Pope Benedict XVI to forgive the sin of abortion without needing their bishop’s approval.”
Indeed, the practice may already be widespread in the United States, where bishops have routinely delegated the ability to forgive for abortion to priests of the diocese who have faculties to hear Confession.
Such as in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.
“Any woman who has gone to confession in our archdiocese and has been absolved can be sure they have validly received absolution,” said Mary Jo Tully, chancellor of the Portland Archdiocese.
“God forgives all the sins committed. At the same time, the faithful have to receive this mercy, which means taking concrete actions,” said Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, chaplain for Human Life International. “To receive this mercy one must open his heart and mind to God in prayer, offer sincere repentance, make a sincere commitment to amend his life, and offer reparations as needed.”
Msgr. Barreiro noted the Pope’s direction that a confessor should indicate with precision “a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father.”
“This path in many cases will entail a serious change of lifestyle, avoiding the sins that lead to abortion, taking up a life of prayer and charity with the guidance and assistance of a parish community or other approved Catholic group,” Msgr. Barreiro said.
In a papal bull issued in April, Pope Francis announced that for the Jubillee, “Missionaries of Mercy” will serve as “a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith.”
“There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer,” the Pope wrote.
That was widely believed to include the sin of abortion, though abortion is not a sin reserved to the Holy See, and it was not mentioned in the papal bull. But Archbishop Fisichella told a reporter in May, “Of course, among faculties of forgiveness that will be given to the missionaries of mercy there will also abortion.”
While it is true that having or cooperating in an abortion incurs an automatic excommunication, one need not go to Rome to have that lifted.