In an apostolic letter released on Monday, Pope Francis has extended the powers of Catholic priests to forgive abortions. The move further cements his reputation as being for a more forgiving and merciful Catholic Church since his papacy began in March 2013.

With this announcement, the Pope is continuing a special dispensation granted last year for the duration of the Year of Mercy. The duration for the special dispensation finished Sunday. The Year of Mercy is a period during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins.

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The Pope states in the letter on extending the right of Catholic priests to forgive abortions:

“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.”

The Catholic Church’s position on abortion has driven many pro-life groups. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is clearly stated that every human life “from the moment of conception until death is sacred” and any Catholic who gets an abortion is automatically excommunicated from the church.

Forgive Abortions

Excommunication is a penalty that often, only a bishop can lift. Last year, however, Pope Francis declared that for the duration of the Church’s Year of Mercy, which ran from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, Priest’s the world over could forgive abortions.

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He had declared at the time that;

“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented.”

Pope Francis also expressed sympathy for women who had been through the “agonizing and painful” decision to terminate their pregnancy. After the announcement last year, many Vatican officials had described the move as “a widening of the church’s mercy.”

They had also supposed at the time that Pope Francis could make the changed policy permanent and the Pope has proved the guesses right.