However, from Dec. 8 to Nov. 26, during an extraordinary Holy Year or 'Jubilee' on the theme of mercy, all priests will be able to do so if the women repent 'with a contrite heart', pope said.
Francis described the 'existential and moral ordeal' faced by women who have terminated pregnancies and said he had 'met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision'.
Francis is the first non European pope in 1,300 years and has marked himself out for tolerance on taboo topics. Although he has shown no intention of retracting the Church's opposition to abortion, he has alarmed conservatives by taking a less forceful tone than his predecessors.
Usually only a bishop, missionary or the chief confessor of a diocese can offer absolution for an abortion, Benedettini said, although bishops in countries such as the United States and Britain, have delegated this authority to parish priests.
Liberal group Catholics for Choice welcomed the move as a gesture of engagement with women, but said Catholic women in the United States have abortions at the same rate as non Catholics, highlighting the gulf between religious teaching and real life.
"This is a pope who is not stuck in the pelvic zone, and perhaps his message on how he thinks about abortion is more for his brother bishops than Catholics in the pew," Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien said.


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