Up until now, this power was reserved for bishops and special confessors.
Pope Francis extended the power in his apostolic letter yesterday, following the ending of the church’s ‘Holy Year of Mercy’ on Sunday.
A spokesperson from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ICBC) told thethat its members welcomed the letter.
“Bishops welcome the apostolic letter ‘Mercy and Peace’, which was published by Pope Francis,” the spokesperson said.
“Bishops intend to share the fruits of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which concluded yesterday, with the faithful of their dioceses.
They added that the full details of yesterday’s letter will be considered by them next month.
“Today’s apostolic letter will be considered by the Winter General Meeting of bishops which will take place in December,” the spokesperson said.
Previously, Pope Francis had temporarily granted the power to forgive abortion to all priests but based on the contents of yesterday’s letter it is understood that this has now become a permanent instruction.
“I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion,” he wrote.
“The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended.”
In the letter, he said he wanted to “restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin since it puts an end to an innocent life.”
In the Catholic faith, abortion is considered a sin that brings about automatic excommunication. Pope Francis also said the absolution granted by any priest would also trigger the simultaneous lifting of excommunication.
The Catholic Church’s current stance on abortion dates back less than 150 years.
In an 1869 document called the Apostolicae Sedis, Pope Pius IX declared the penalty of excommunication for abortions at any stage of pregnancy.
However, up until then, the teaching was that homicide has not occurred if abortion had taken place before the foetus was instilled with a soul, known as ‘ensoulment’.
In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV said that ‘ensoulment’ occurred at 166 days of pregnancy, almost 24 weeks.