Pope Francis

Pope Francis says Catholics can be forgiven for having abortions if they’re contrite

In a new order, Pope Francis says that during the Vatican’s upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, priests are allowed to absolve Catholics who have had an abortion of their “grave sin” as long as they really, really regret it.

The extraordinary order by Francis, which temporarily allows all priests to grant forgiveness to women who have elected to have an abortion and regret the procedure, is part of the church’s jubilee year of mercy, which begins on 8 December and runs until 20 November 2016.

Within an hour of releasing the letter, the Vatican released another statement in response to a flood of queries, emphasising that the church did not “condone abortion nor minimise its grave effects”.

The letter will be seen as further evidence that Francis, the first Latin American pope, is approaching his papacy as a liberal-minded reformer and is seeking to reach out to Catholics who believe the church – and its usually uncompromising attitudes towards abortion, homosexuality and divorce – is out of touch with modern social views.

The Pope may well see himself as a reformer, but he’s still pretty out of touch. According to statistics compiled by Catholics for Choice, in the United States, 99 percent of sexually active Catholics have used a Vatican-banned form of contraception. Only 14 percent agree with the Church’s position that abortion should be illegal. Catholic women have abortions at the exact same rate as other women. Perhaps because their own values on matters of sex, contraception, and abortion are so radically different from official Catholic teachings, four out of five Catholic voters feel no obligation to vote the way bishops recommend.

If this order gives a sense of relief to some of the millions of Catholic believers who’ve had an abortion, that’s great and I’m glad for it. But as Reina showed in her recent piece on religious advocates for reproductive rights, there are plenty of true reformers within the Catholic Church who see abortion not as shameful sin one should regret but as a matter of personal conscious and social justice — and believe faith shouldn’t be dictated by the male-dominated Church hierarchy.

Header image credit: Fabrizio Belluschi/Demotix/Corbis

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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