Vatican City - Women who have had an abortion will be able to seek pardon during the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy for what the Catholic Church considers a grave sin, Pope Francis said.
A jubilee, also known as a holy year offers Catholics a special occasion to make a pilgrimage and seek forgiveness for their sins. It is regularly observed every quarter of a century, but Francis has called a special one running from December 8 to November 20 2016.
"I am thinking especially of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressures that have led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral tragedy," the pontiff said in a public letter.
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"I have decided that during the Jubilee Year all priests will have the faculty to absolve from the sin of abortion all who have committed it and who ask forgiveness with heartfelt penance," he added.
Francis also opened the door to the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a rebel ultra-traditionalist group accused of anti-Semitism that refuses to recognise 1960s church reforms such as the abolition of Latin mass and steps to improve Catholic-Jewish relations.
Expressing hope that the SSPX could "in the near future" be reintegrated in the mainstream Catholic Church, the pope said SSPX priests will be entitled to hand out absolutions during the jubilee, just like ordinary Catholic prelates.