Pope Francis said Monday that all priests will be able to forgive abortion, making permanent a temporary measure he had put in place for the Vatican's jubilee year.
"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," the pope wrote in an apostolic letter marking the end of the "Year of Mercy", which wound up Sunday.
He said he wanted to "restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life" but "there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with (God)".
Francis had already temporarily granted the power to all priests to give what is known as "sacramental absolution" for abortion during the Holy Year, from Dec. 8 to Nov. 20, but the solemn tone of his words in Monday's letter suggested that change would last for at least the rest of his papacy.
"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended ...," he said.
In Roman Catholic teaching, abortion is such a serious sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication, until it is absolved in confession.
In the past, only a bishop or a designated chief confessor of a diocese could grant absolution for an abortion.