In the letter published by the Vatican yesterday, Pope Francis said that from December 8 to November 26 next year, the Holy Year, which has a theme of mercy, all priests would be able to grant forgiveness on abortion.
It marks a break from the Vatican’s position on the issue up to now and was welcomed by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) here — a group whose co-founder, Fr Tony Flannery, has effectively been ‘silenced’ by elements of the hierarchy in Rome.
Regarding Pope Francis’s letter, Fr Seán McDonagh of the CAP said: “Our response to that would be extraordinarily positive. The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of Mercy. That is what our Church is — one that should promote mercy over everything else.”
Fr McDonagh said priests in parishes were already involved in pastoral ministry and would be familiar with cases that involved abortion.
International group Catholics For Choice said the change of position on forgiveness for abortion proved the Pope “practices what he preaches”.
The group’s president, Jon O’Brien, said: “What Catholics practice is different than the dictates of the bishops. 99% of US Catholic women have used a method of birth control the bishops don’t like, and we know that Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as those of other faiths and no faiths.”
However, he said that, despite the Pope’s letter, “I do not believe that Catholic women will be queuing up to ask for forgiveness”.
Vatican chief spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said of the Pope’s letter: “This is by no means an attempt to minimise the gravity of this sin but to widen the possibility of showing mercy.”
Deputy Vatican spokesman Fr Ciro Benedettini said that, “for now”, the change would apply only during the Holy Year.
Usually only a bishop, missionary, or the chief confessor of a diocese, known by the Italian term “penitenziere”, can formally forgive an abortion.
In opening the way for parish priests to do likewise, Pope Francis wrote of the “existential and moral ordeal” faced by women who have had an abortion and added that he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision”.
The Pope has previously denounced abortion, but said: “I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to allow all priests for the Jubilee Year to absolve of the sin of abortion those who procure it and who also seek forgiveness.”
There was no response to the publication of the letter from the Catholic Bishops in Ireland.