Latin American faithful divided after Pope Francis allows priests to forgive abortion

Catholic worshippers in Argentina and Mexico are divided following comments from Pope Francis granting priests discretion to forgive abortion during Holy Year.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (SEPTEMBER 01, 2015) (REUTERS) – There were mixed feelings in Argentina and Mexico on Tuesday (September 01) to comments by Pope Francis that all priests will have the discretion during the Roman Catholic Church’s Holy Year to formally forgive women who have had abortions — the Argentine pontiff’s latest move towards a more open and inclusive church.

In Church teaching, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication, which can only be lifted by designated church officials.

However, from December 8 to November 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”, the pope said in a letter published by the Vatican on Tuesday (September 01).

In the Pontiff’s hometown of Buenos Aires, local priest Alejandro Russo told Reuters that the move does not discredit the notion that abortion is a sin.

“For those who criticise the church on abortion, the Pope continues to say that abortion is wrong but needs to be forgiven. But also for those on the extreme end of the church where abortion is something that it’s the end of the world and there is eternal condemnation for abortion, he (the Pope) is saying that God does not condemn anyone forever. Stop and repent, even though the death of an innocent is very serious, repent and he (God) will forgive,” he said.

Abortion in Argentina is strictly limited by law with most instances of abortions in the country presumed to be illegal. In 2012, Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled abortion in the case of rape or threat to a woman’s life is legal, and attempts to legalise the practice have not yet passed the country’s Congress.

Martha Rosenberg, an activist for safe, legal abortions in Argentina, said in practice, many women in the country do not share the Church’s view that abortion is a tragedy but rather a solution to unwanted pregnancies.

“I suppose for Catholic woman who have an abortion and feel excluded from their religious community due to the moral convictions of the church, it’s important. But it needs to be said that not all women who have an abortion feel it is a tragedy like the Pope says. For many it is a solution to a the great personal crisis of pregnancy when they are not in a position to continue through maternity, that they cannot take it to term on do not want to,” she said.

In Latin America, home to nearly half of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, 95 percent of abortions are carried out in unsafe conditions, according to the World Health Organisation.

Mexico, the country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world, legalised abortion in its capital in 2007 and broke with the church’s opinion.

Mexico City priest, Jose de Jesus Aguilar, echoed the Pope’s sentiments that the Vatican still regards abortion as a sin but is making the exception for Holy Year.

“The Pope wants to say that we have not forgotten that this is something serious, but this is a special year where we will help all those women,” he said.

Worshippers in the capital were divided over the stance, with some questioning the church’s authority over women.

“I don’t think that somebody could say to a woman that, ‘I forgive you,’ even if you’re the Pope. I think that the Catholic Church can say they are absolved from the sin of abortion. I think that every woman has the right to do what is best for them,” said Catholic, Gabriela Dominguez.

Mother of two, Karla Rojas, said abortions should be out of the question.

“I say that there is no forgiveness from God for this and I think it is something that is not correct. As a woman I say that a child is the most sacred,” she said.

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.