Pope to allow priests to absolve people from 'sin of abortion'

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Pope Francis says he is letting all priests in the church's upcoming Year of Mercy absolve the "sin of abortion" if they seek forgiveness with a "contrite heart." (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

In a break with tradition, Pope Francis is offering an amnesty period of sorts to Catholic women who've had abortions. While some call it historic, others say it doesn't signal any newfound respect for women or their choices.

Scholars at St. Mary's College in Moraga are watching Pope Francis very closely. Until now, Catholic women could seek forgivingness after having an abortion, but only from a bishop in most countries. Come December, that will change. But only for a year.

While offering a chance at forgiveness to Catholic women who have had an abortion, the pope is still stopping well short of condoning it.

"It's remarkable," said Brother Charles Hilken, a history professor at St. Mary's College in Moraga. "It's truly a pastoral move to make confession and absolution available to women available in these circumstances when they want to come forward."

VIDEO: Pope Francis holds first-ever virtual papal audience

Danville resident Diana Nagy added, "I see God's mercy in everything. I don't see this as a step back at all."

Nagy is a pro-life Catholic from Danville.

"I can see it at all as a loosening of the doctrine of abortion," she said. "He's just saying everybody makes mistakes and God understands everybody's hearts."

But others dismiss the pope's offer of forgiveness, saying it's unnecessary for something they do not view as a sin.

"Women don't need forgiveness for an abortion. It is not a sin, it is not a crime, it is a woman's fundamental right," said Luna Nichol with Radical Women Bay Area.

As it is now, the pope's change in practice is temporary. The offer of forgiveness is only for the coming Jubilee Year, which begins in December.
Pope Francis held a virtual visit with Americans this week. The event was moderated by World News Tonight's David Muir. The event will air in a one-hour special edition of ABC News' "20/20" on Friday, Sept. 4 at 10 p.m. PST.

ABC7 News Anchor Ama Daetz will travel to Washington DC to bring us coverage of the pope's visit to the United States. The pontiff will canonize Father Junpero Serra on Sept. 23 in Washington. Father Serra established California's missions.
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