Pope Francis has decried abortion as "a horror," but it seems he's changing his tune just a little bit on the issue of women's reproductive decisions. Beginning in December, the pope will launch a Holy Year of Mercy, during which time he's directed priests to forgive people for committing the gravest sins -- like having an abortion.
During a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Rino Fisichella announced Pope Francis' plans to send "missionaries of mercy" across the globe who will have "the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See," such as terminating a pregnancy. Abortion will still be considered a sin worthy of excommunication, but from December of this year to November of next, the papacy will consider it one that is also worthy of mercy.
Francis has spoken sharply about abortion, calling it “a sin against God.” But his year of mercy is aimed at bringing back estranged Catholics by emphasizing outreach, even for those who have committed grave sins in the eyes of the church.
Last year, Francis told Catholic bishops in South Africa that “abortion compounds the grief of many women who now carry with them deep physical and spiritual wounds.” He noted, however, that reconciliation “must be rediscovered as a fundamental dimension of the life of grace.”
Fisichella, now the president of the council organizing Holy Year events, said the Pope’s decision was intended “as a concrete sign that a priest must be a man of mercy and close to all.”
Although the pope has been extraordinarily progressive on a number of social issues, including equal pay for women, his stances on abortion and the use of contraception remain in line with the church's traditionally conservative views. His call for mercy for women who have made "sinful" choices about their reproductive health, however, might indicate a positive shift.