Special permission had been given for absolution during the Holy Year of Mercy, which has just ended.
But Pope Francis is to make it permanent, and wrote in the Apostolic Letter made public by the Vatican on Monday 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 God”.
However, he also made it clear that he still regards abortion as a serious sin.
He wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.”
Because the Roman Catholic Church considers abortion to be so serious, granting forgiveness could only be done by a bishop, who could either hear the woman’s confession himself or delegate that to a priest.
But in 2015 Pope Francis said he would allow all rank-and-file priests to grant absolution for an abortion during the Holy Year, which started in on 8 December 2015 and ended on Sunday.
The 79-year-old Argentine has been trying to create his vision for a merciful church to women who, as he has written in the past, felt they had no choice but to make “this agonising and painful decision”.
“May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation,” he wrote.
Explaining his rationale, Pope Francis said: “Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.
“The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary.”