Pope Francis temporarily alters the rules for Catholics as long as they are "contrite"

By Maria Coder
Updated September 01, 2015 12:05 PM
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Pope Francis is temporarily allowing Roman Catholic priests to absolve women who’ve had abortions, and those who’ve helped them, as long as they admit their wrongdoing and are truly sorry for what they’ve done.

The pontiff says he will allow priests the “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” in a lengthy letter published online by the Vatican on Tuesday that clarifies the change.

The shift in policy will only apply for the Holy Year of Mercy, which runs from Dec. 8, 2015, through Nov. 20, 2016.

Historically, the Catholic Church has excommunicated those who’ve had an abortion. The only way to return to the Church’s good graces has been to seek out a bishop to lift the excommunication ban.

On Tuesday, the Vatican published a lengthy letter online to clarify the change.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision,” the Pope writes. He adds that many women “believe that they have no other option” and says that he knows “that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

Still, he reminds that “forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects.” He also explains his choice. “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.”

Pope Francis’ decree does not change the Church’s stance on abortion – both abortion and defiance of papal authority are considered grave sins.

The upcoming Holy Year of Mercy is one of the 1.2 billion-member Church’s most important events, per NBC.

Pope Francis has had a busy start to the week. On Monday he spoke to a group of Americans, in three different cities, via satellite from Rome and asked (in English) for a teenage girl to sing for him.

Francis is getting ready to make his first papal visit to the U.S. next month. He’ll be in Washington on Sept. 22, then will head to New York and Philadelphia.