Pope Francis temporarily gave Roman Catholic priests the power to forgive abortion during the Church's "Holy Year of Mercy," which ended Sunday. In a letter released Monday, however, the pope "extended" the right to priests, suggesting it would last at least until the end of his papacy, reports Reuters. While "abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life … 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," the pope wrote, per the Catholic News Agency.
"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," he continued. "May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation." Anyone who has or performs an abortion is to be automatically excommunicated from the Church until they confess. American priests had already been given the right to absolve abortion, but in many parts of the world, only bishops or a chief confessor of a diocese were able to forgive such a "sin." (Read more Pope Francis stories.)