Pope Francis has moved against church tradition and empowered priests to absolve women who have had abortions.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision,” the pope said in a letter released by the Vatican on Tuesday. “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

The letter indicated that women will have to seek forgiveness from a priest. “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” it read.

Under church law, women who have abortions are automatically excommunicated.

The Guardian reports:

The order, which temporarily allows all priests to grant forgiveness to women who have elected to have an abortion and profoundly regret the procedure, is part of the church’s jubilee year of mercy, which begins on 8 December and runs until 20 November 2016. …

Although the letter does not change official church doctrine, it will be seen as further evidence that Francis is approaching his papacy as a liberal-minded reformer and is seeking to reach out to Catholics who believe the church – and its usually uncompromising attitudes towards abortion, homosexuality and divorce – is too harsh and out of touch with modern social views. …

Francis has already frustrated some traditional and conservative Catholics – particularly in the US – with his criticism of unfettered capitalism, which he has called “the dung of the devil”, as well as his call for action to combat global warming and phase out the use of fossil fuels. He made waves early on in his papacy when, in response to a question about a Vatican official who was allegedly gay, he responded: “Who am I to judge?”

“Pope Francis’s decision to allow priests to absolve women who have procured abortions consolidates his reputation as the ‘Pope of Mercy’ and as a master strategist in the effort to bring back lapsed Catholics into the fold,” said R Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University[.]

In his letter, Francis spoke of a “widespread and insensitive mentality” that had led to a “loss of proper personal and social sensitivity,” as the Guardian wrote.

Francis wrote: “The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realising the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.”

Some readers will see a continuation of institutional sexism in the pope’s announcement. “Who is this man to tell women they’re forgiven for managing their own bodies?” they might ask. Few could deny, however, that Francis’ decision to use his power to pressure many of his subordinates to change their position will have a positive effect on the lives of many Catholic women.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig