I'm not Catholic.
So I was befuddled when I saw this Associated Press news alert this morning:
BREAKING: Pope to let all priests in Holy Year absolve people from `sin of abortion' if they repent.
I wondered: Can priests not forgive abortion under normal circumstances? Is abortion ordinarily an unforgivable sin for Catholics? (My apologies to tmatt for not paying close enough attention.)
In an email to GetReligion, a reader complained:
This is in the vein of "Breaking news! Pope Francis changing everything about the mean, backward Catholic church!" while Pope Francis reiterates the orthodoxy taught by all his successors. My head is exploding. May the truth reign in the hearts of all.
I started clicking links to see if I could make sense of this breaking news.
The full AP report provided important context:
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis declared Tuesday he is allowing all priests in the church's upcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the "sin of abortion" if they repent with a "contrite heart."
Reflecting his papacy's central theme of mercy, Francis said in letter published Tuesday by the Vatican that he has met many women bearing "the scar of this agonizing" decision to abort. He said God's forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and thus is giving all priests the discretion to absolve the sin in the Holy Year of Mercy running Dec. 8, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016.
The church views abortion as such as grave sin that, until now, a Catholic woman who wanted to repent for an abortion could not simply go to her local parish priest. Instead, her diocese's bishop needed to delegate a priest, expert at dealing with such confessions, to hear the woman's confession.