Pope Allows Priests to Forgive 'Sin of Abortion'

02 September, 2015

Pope Francis is calling his priests to forgive women of the "sin of abortion" during the upcoming "Holy Year of Mercy."

The Pope guides more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide. He released a letter Tuesday saying many women have told him of the pain when ending a pregnancy. He wrote many women agonized and told him "that they [had] no other option."

The Pope, or pontiff, wrote he has "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision."

Rosemary (Farfan) is a single mother with two children. The Los Angeles woman spoke with the pontiff during a video link-up from ABC News. She said "It hasn't been easy for me. I've made some mistakes as a person, as a mother...I've felt guilty at times and ashamed."

In reply, Pope Francis told her, "I know that people can sometimes look askance at you. You're a brave woman because you're capable of bringing these two daughters into the world. ... You respected the life you were carrying inside you and God is going to reward you for that and he does reward for you for that. Don't be ashamed. ... I congratulate you."

The Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to abortion. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has viewed abortion as a serious sin, punished by excommunication. Women have been expelled from the Church and condemned to hell in the afterlife.

The forgiveness allows women to continue to practice their Catholic faith in a formal manner. They can receive sacraments, like Holy Communion, and participate in church ceremonies.

Conservative Catholics are concerned about Pope Francis, an Argentinian, taking a more gentle approach than earlier popes. Father Frank Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life. Father Pavone released a statement welcoming "the Church's eagerness to reconcile those who have had abortions." He added that, "To treat someone with compassion includes sharing with them honestly the truth they need to hear, and to be fully truthful includes revealing the reality of compassion and mercy."

Father Federico Lombardi is the Vatican chief spokesman. He has this to say on the letter from the pontiff, "This is by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin, but to widen the possibility of showing mercy."

The forgiveness begins December 8 in the church's "Holy Year of Mercy." Pope Francis said if someone repents, God will forgive them. That is why he gave priests the power to absolve this sin.

Pope Francis poses for a picture with Argentinian youths during his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican, August 2015. (REUTERS)
Pope Francis poses for a picture with Argentinian youths during his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican, August 2015. (REUTERS)

In a 2013 address in St. Peter's Square in Rome, the Pope gave a message about mercy.

"A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just," the Pope said. "We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father, who is so patient."

I'm Anna Matteo.

Isabela Cocoli reported this story for VOA. Kathleen Struck adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

agonized -- v. to worry or experience great sorrow

pontiff n. another name for a pope, or top leader of the Roman Catholic church

askance - adv. in a way that shows a lack of approval

excommunication – v. to cast out from a religious group

expelled – v. to cast out

exempt – n. to be outside a group

sacraments n. holy practice in the church

Holy Communion n. a practice or service in Christianity where bread and wine are shared