POPE FRANCIS has given all priests the power to absolve a woman who has had an abortion, extending indefinitely a temporary measure he introduced for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
As the Year drew to a close last Sunday, the Pope published an apostolic letter in which he called for a “culture of mercy”, and announced the extension of the dispensation for those who have had an abortion.
But he stressed: “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.”
In an interview given to an Italian radio station after the publication of the letter, he described abortion as a “horrendous crime”.
The indefinite extension nevertheless marks a significant change in the Roman Catholic Church’s discipline on abortion. Previously, a woman seeking absolution in such a case would have had to seek it from a bishop; or a bishop could delegate permission to a priest to do so.
Last year, Pope Francis wrote that some women who had abortions felt they had no choice but to make “this agonizing and painful decision”.
In his latest letter he said: “May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation” after abortion.
A Vatican official told a news conference on Monday that the Pope’s words also applied to those who were involved in an abortion, including the doctors and nurses who carried it out.
The letter, Misericordia et Misera, said that mercy was the Church’s “very existence”, and urged priests “to be welcoming to all, witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved”.
Pope Francis also extended permission to those attending churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X, a conservative breakaway group, to receive “sacramental absolution of their sins”. That permission, too, had previously only been granted for the Year of Mercy.
He also suggested that the Church should celebrate each year the World Day of the Poor, in mid-November.
The letter concluded: “The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open.”
Ecumenism 'not about mergers or proselytism'
by Gavin Drake
THE Pope has spoken of Christian unity as “an essential requirement of our faith”, and has said that Christians of different denominations will become closer to each other as they move closer to Jesus. Pope Francis made the comments at a meeting of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity — the ecumenical department in the Vatican — in Rome earlier this month.
“We wish to live unity, because we wish to follow Christ, to live his love, to benefit from the mystery of his being one with the Father, which is the essence of divine love,” the Pope said. “According to Jesus’s priestly prayer, what we yearn for is unity in the love of the Father, which comes to us as a gift in Jesus Christ, love that also informs thought and doctrines.
“It is not enough to be in agreement in comprehension of the gospel, but it is necessary that all believers are united . . . in Christ. It is our personal and community conversion, our gradual conformation to him . . . that enables us to grow in communion between us.”
The Pope has taken part in a number of ecumenical initiatives in recent weeks, including the sending out for joint mission of pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome (News, 14 October), and the joint RC-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation in Lund and Malmö (News, 4 November).
Ecumenism was about churches’ working together, he said, rather than the merger of denominations.
He continued: “Christian unity does not lead to a ‘reverse ecumenism’, for which one would have to deny their own history of faith; neither does it tolerate proselytism, which is instead poisonous to the path of ecumenism.
“Before seeing what separates us, it is necessary to perceive also, in an existential way, the wealth of what we have in common. . .
“In this way, we Christians are able to acknowledge we are brothers and sisters who believe in the one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, committed together to finding the way of obeying today the word of God, who wants us to be united. . .
“Ecumenism is true when it is able to move attention away from itself, from its own arguments and formulations, to the Word of God that demands to be heard, welcomed and witnessed in the world. Therefore, the various Christian communities are called not to compete with one another, but to collaborate.
“My recent visit to Lund reminded me of the relevance of the ecumenical principle formulated there by the World Council of Churches in 1952, which recommends that Christians ‘should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately’.”