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Pope: Priests Can Absolve Abortion Recipients, Providers During Holy Year

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Pope Francis is giving all priests the discretion to grant forgiveness to women who have had abortions, during the Catholic Church’s upcoming Holy Year.

The “Holy Year” – also known as “Jubilee” -- begins December 8 and runs through November 26, 2016. Its theme -- announced by Francis earlier this year -- is “Mercy.”

“It’s an opportunity for us as a church to focus on God’s mercy, not only in our lives but in the life of the Church,” says Bishop Gregory Parkes, who oversees the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese. “And to present that to people as an opportunity to grow in God’s love and to experience His forgiveness.”

Catholic teaching regards abortion as a grave sin, and those who have one or perform the procedure face automatic excommunication. In many areas, only designated clergy and senior Church figures can provide absolution. But that’s not the case in the local diocese.

“This is a faculty in which the priests in our diocese here in Pensacola-Tallahassee, and many, many dioceses throughout the United States already enjoy, as it’s been granted by the bishops to the priests,” Parkes said.

Many view the Pontiff’s declaration as his latest move towards a more open and inclusive church. Parkes says the chance for absolution is also open to those who perform abortions – under certain conditions.

“They would need to be repentant themselves, if they cooperated in the act of an abortion or actually performed the abortion,” said Parkes. “They of course could be absolved, but they would have to seek forgiveness themselves.”

However, Francis is not showing any indication towards altering the Church’s opposition to abortion. In his first two and a half years as Pontiff, the first non-European pope in 13 centuries has been noted for his tolerance regarding taboo issues.

A pendulum of sorts appears to be swinging inside the Church. John Paul II was a conservative pope who had to deal with a progressive-leaning American clergy. Now, it’s a more progressive Pope Francis and a more conservative-leaning clergy here. Bishop Gregory Parkes says each Holy Father has his own gifts and talents.

“John Paul II was seen and known throughout the world, his writings were very extensive, but he was also a theologian,” said Parkes. “Same with Pope Benedict, whereas we see the gift of Pope Francis is a very pastoral approach, which is able to connect with people with very practical issues and concerns. So I wouldn’t make it a liberal vs. conservative issue.”

In a letter published by the Vatican on Tuesday, Francis described the "existential and moral ordeal" faced by women who have terminated pregnancies.  A Vatican spokesman says while the Pope’s action is “by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin, it does aim to widen the possibility of showing mercy.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.