Pope Francis has empowered priests to “absolve the sin of abortion” during the upcoming Mercy Year, which is set to begin on December 8. The move further cements the pope’s reputation as a chill dude.

Usually, anyone involved in an abortion (which is considered a crime) would be immediately excommunicated, and could only return to the church if absolved by a bishop. The new policy makes it that much easier to rejoin the Catholic church.

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“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” the Pope wrote in his 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. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. 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.

In May, the pope announced he would dispatch “missionaries of mercy” who would be tasked with pardoning women who had had abortions and the doctors who had performed them.

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The Washington Post noted that priests already routinely absolved women of abortions, so the letter represents not so much a change in procedure but a public statement advocating mercy. In an interview with the newspaper, University of Notre Dame professor Candida Moss argued that the pope is simply “resetting the tone” on the issue for his U.S. visit.

“I think this is him seeking a middle ground,” she said, “an equilibrium where he’ll say something that’s Catholic in soft tones.”


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

Image via Getty.