Pope Francis, making permanent a temporary measure put in place for the Vatican's jubilee year, declared Monday that all priests would have the right to forgive abortion.
"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.
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"The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary," he wrote.
The 79-year old Argentine said he had to "restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life".
On Sunday, as he brought the jubilee to an end by closing the bronze-panelled Holy Door in Saint Peter's Square, Francis gave an interview in which he slammed abortion as "a horrendous crime".
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But he said Monday that the end of the special year did not mean the end of mercy itself, and so-called sinners must be given a chance to repent. The Church considers abortion to be a sin.
"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," he said in the letter.
"May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation."
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The watchword of mercy has meant helping the unfortunate, and welcoming outcasts back into the fold.
The pope hopes greater compassion from a more open-minded Church will not only counter xenophobia but also draw people to pews.
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