In a recent declaration, Pope Francis has announced that he has granted the universal ability to forgive abortions to all priests, a right traditionally reserved for bishops.

Just what are the Catholic views on abortion?

In the Roman Catholic religion, serious or “mortal” sins can only obtain absolution through the practice known as Confession, in which a Catholic tells a priest their sins and is given a specific blessing.

Traditionally, any Catholic who procures an abortion, which can include women who have had past abortions, doctors who perform abortions, or even those who directly finance or coerce another into having the procedure, would receive an automatic excommunication, which strips someone of their right as a Catholic to receive sacraments, such as Confession, and could only be lifted by a bishop or higher in Church hierarchy.

According to reports, the catechism of the Catholic Church had opposed abortion since publications from the first century.

What does the Pope’s statement mean?

Pope Francis recently released a statement that all priests have the right, through his blessing and permission, to forgive those who confess to procuring an abortion, writing that there is “no sin” that should be seen as unforgivable.

The act was seen as done in honor of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Mercy,” which had lasted from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.

Pope John Paul II had previously enacted such an extension in 1983, which still limited the initial right to lift an excommunication to bishops, but permitted bishops the right to extend this permission to priests.

Pope Francis’ act is seen as a clarification of the previous action.

Kate D'Annunzio of Rachel's Vineyard, an American non-profit organization devoted to helping men and women who needed counseling over issues stemming from past abortions, praised the decision, saying that the Pope was sending the message, “Don't isolate yourselves, come back to the church”

That said, Pope Francis made clear in a statement that this should not be seen as a change in the Church’s view of abortion in a general sense, writing that it should be viewed as a “grave sin.”

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