Pope Francis Changes Rules for Catholics Who’ve Had Abortions

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LAMPEDUSA, ITALY - JULY 08:  Pope Francis waves to the faithful after visiting San Gerlando churcv during his visit to the island on July 8, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy. On his first official trip outside Rome, Pope Francis arrived at Lampedusa airport, before boarding a boat to make the crossing to the island accompanied by fishermen in their own boats. He layed a wreath on the sea in memory of those who have lost their lives in the crossing to the island from Africa, met with a group of migrants at the pier and held mass. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

LAMPEDUSA, ITALY – JULY 08: Pope Francis waves to the faithful after visiting San Gerlando churcv during his visit to the island on July 8, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has made a major change in the way the Catholic Church treats women who have had an abortion. Women who have an abortion will no longer need a bishop’s permission to avoid excommunication. But the change applies only during the Holy Year that runs from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016.

Now, women who’ve had an abortion and anyone who helped them get one will be forgiven of what the Church still considers a sin, as long as they confess to having had the procedure or assisting someone in getting it.

The shift isn’t going to last forever — it only applies for the Holy Year that runs from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.

Before the Pope’s change in policy, women who’d had an abortion were automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church and needed the permission of a bishop in order to lift that ban.

In this story

  • Permission of bishop no longer needed to avoid excommunication
  • Policy change applies only between December of 2015 and November of 2016
  • Pope has not changed church view that abortion is "a moral evil"

The Vatican issued this statement Tuesday, clarifying the change.

“Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects,” it said. “The newness is clearly Pope Francis’ pastoral approach. Many bishops have granted priests permission to forgive the sin. The fact that this statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis.

“That people come to confession today to confess abortion and other grave sins is cause for us in the Church to thank God and to put into practice the mission of the good and merciful shepherd who came to seek out those who were lost.”

Many women ‘believe that they have no other option’

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision,” the Pope said of women who’ve had an abortion, in a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican.

Many women, the Pope said, “believe that they have no other option.”

“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,” the letter said.

Pope Francis’ decree does not change Catholic Church teachings about the gravity of the sin of abortion, which Church law calls a “moral evil.”

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