Society and Culture

In Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis Allows Priests to Absolve Abortions

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At the conclusion of the yearlong Jubilee of Mercy on Monday, Pope Francis released an apostolic letter that granted all priests the ability to absolve the “grave sin” of abortion. The letter, signed Sunday and released Monday, is called Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Poor), and includes a variety of papal meditations on mercy. In regard to his instructions on abortion, Pope Francis writes:

I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.

According to canon law, abortion results in an automatic excommunication from the church. Only a bishop can absolve the “reserved sin” of abortion. With the letter, priests have the permanent ability to absolve abortions, something that was previously assigned exclusively to bishops, representing a break from tradition, widening the doors for the Catholic Church’s 1.2 billion members worldwide, and expanding upon Pope Francis’ message of mercy.

The letter also called for a World Day of the Poor every November moving forward, representing a “day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel,” and “genuine form of new evangelization which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Pope Francis’ decision to allow priests to absolve abortions is not without precedent. In 2000, another Holy Year, Pope John Paul II allowed priests to do the same. Pope Francis’ decision to make permanent the decree of allowing priests to absolve abortions underscores his commitment to adapting the church’s message to a changing world.

Now is the time “to unleash the creativity of mercy,” Pope Francis writes in the letter, and to “promote a culture of mercy based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at



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