The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the holy year of celebration and forgiveness of all sins for the Catholic Church, is beginning on Dec. 8, and the establishment is readying for it. In a detailed letter, Pope Francis laid out some ground rules for the estimated 30 million pilgrims expected to travel to Rome between December and the following November, along with some notable, if temporary, reforms for everyone else.
In particular, he focused on those seeking to be absolved of the sin of having an abortion, a practice that is punished with excommunication and can only be revoked by a bishop or by a priest appointed directly by the pope. For the holy year, however, the pope has had a change of heart:
I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.
The pope’s decision was apparently motivated by a sense of compassion for the burden women bear in making that decision. He wrote in the letter:
I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.
The special forgiveness is only available through the Jubilee, which will end on Nov. 20, 2016. After that deadline, women who have an abortion will have to resort to the church’s standard path to forgiveness.