Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter on Monday, extending the permission for all priests to absolve the “grave sin” of abortion.

Although he commented that abortion is still viewed as an offense for Catholicism, mainly because it means the end of an innocent life, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that “There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled.”

Pope Francis
Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on October 16, 2016. Image credit: EFE/Giorgio Onorati.

So far, the sin of abortion had to be absolved by a bishop, seeing that for Catholics it is a grave offense sometimes weighed against murder. To be absolved of the sin, a woman had to seek a confession with the bishop or delegate the confession to a priest. Although this could be viewed as trivial for non-practitioners, a woman having to reach out to a priest to confess that she had to kill her baby is intimidating at best.

Forgiveness as a way of console and guidance

The decision was apparently due to the obstacles that appear between the reconciliation between a person and God. Although this may have political implications, the power of the Catholic Church remains active through every parish and community where people are practitioners, leading to a truly global presence which cherishes its own set of values and beliefs.

It has also been reported that Pope Francis is trying to address the issues that he had to face during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has already talked about how women have come to him asking for consolation after being forced to abort their babies since they would have faced a fatal risk if they had given birth.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis speaks to people gathered at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on November 16, 2016. Image credit: EFE/Giorgio Onorati.

Pope Francis called for every Catholic priest to serve as a guide and a source of support and comfort to penitents, as they seek to reconcile with God.

Abortion has been considered a major sin since the first century, mainly because the Church dictates that life is sacred from the moment of conception, although up to this day many debate when does exactly conception takes place and how much can a mother wait before it is too late to abort her child. Throughout the last decades, the Catholic Church has been strongly against abortion, although bishops were first permitted the practice in the 1980’s.

Many pro-choice groups have expressed gratitude for Pope Francis’ decision, seeing that women are not always to blame for having to abort their child. Although some cases of abortion take place to avoid a child from being born in precarious conditions, the only case that is accepted as a middle ground for abortion is whenever the mother is at risk of dying during childbirth.

Even when the Pope’s decision will not fully impact laws and taking into account that most of Trump’s administration is pro-life, now women can avoid becoming isolated after having undergone an abortion. They can now resort to the church to obtain guidance and counseling, which is oftentimes all that is needed to carry on with the burden of losing an unborn child.

It is also likely that the decision comes from 2016 being the Year of Mercy, which started back on December 8, 2015, and ended last Sunday, November 20. It is seen as a period of sin remission and universal pardon of sin, reminding people of God’s mercy.

“I ask you to be welcoming to all, witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness,” wrote Pope Francis in the letter signed on Sunday.

Pro-life or pro-choice is not a modern debate

The belief is that sin separates man from God, but some sins are also crimes punishable by man. Abortion has been practiced since ancient times, using herbs, sharp tools, and other primitive methods.

There are records showing that abortions were performed in Egypt and China, thousands of years before Christ. Hindu and Buddhist artistic representations of abortion practices have been found, showing how to administer an abdominal abortion by performing a specific type of massage.

Abortion appears to go against the Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm,” one of the pillars of medicine, and this is used by pro-life activists as an argument that goes beyond faith.

Ancient scribes have convened in the idea that the Hippocratic Oath does forbid abortion, but the first books on gynecology explain that, although abortion should never take place, it is in the extreme scenario where the mother’s health would be in danger that it can be considered viable.

Coherently, the primal discrepancies on the rightfulness of abortion that are based on whether the embryo can be considered to be alive or not were first attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. The latter wrote that abortion “must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive.”

Source: CNN