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Pope Francis Says Priests Can Forgive Those Who've Had Abortions

Photograph by NurPho/REX Shutterstock

Pope Francis has once again turned heads, Catholic and otherwise, with today's announcement that priests could absolve those who have had an abortion and seek out forgiveness with "a contrite heart."

In a letter from the leader of the Catholic Church, he elaborated that this forgiveness would take effect during the Church's upcoming "Holy Year of Mercy," a jubilee year that occurs every 25 or 50 years and runs from December 8, 2015, through November 20, 2016.

Acknowledging the "agonizing and painful decision" of women who have opted to have an abortion, Pope Francis effectively softened the tone of how the Church treats its members regarding this topic.

Not that women who have already had abortions have not been forgiven if they have participated in the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, or confession. While abortion is considered a grave sin by the Church, which could even result in ex-communication, bishops already have the authority to allow priests to hear the confession and absolve the sin.

In fact, prior to the Pope's statement, "most U.S. bishops have 'routinely granted' priests the right to remove the penalty and let the confessed woman return to good standing," the Washington Post reports.

What makes the Pope's statement particularly groundbreaking is that he is giving a blanket worldwide approval of the practice.

This isn't the first time that Pope Francis has garnered attention because of his unorthodox and more compassionate take on hot-button issues within the Church, including divorce, homosexuality and remarriage.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" he famously said to reporters about priests in 2013.

While the first Pope from Latin America objects to the glibness that sometimes surrounds the topic, he also concedes the gravitas with which many women approach their decision.

"The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails," Pope Francis writes in the letter. "Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option."

"I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion," he continues. "I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision."

The statement comes ahead of his planned trip to the United States in September, when he'll make a statement to the Joint Session of Congress in Washington, D.C., and to the United Nations in New York, as well as make a trip to Philadelphia.

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