Pope Francis says all priests can forgive women who've had abortions

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A little over two weeks before Pope Francis visits the U.S., the pontiff has rocked the Catholic world again.  Tuesday he announced women who are sorry for having an abortion can seek forgiveness from all priests during the church’s upcoming “Year of Mercy.”  Believe it or not, Father Leon Strieder with University of St. Thomas in Houston says this has been the case in the U.S. for years.  He says the Francis’s announcement is a reminder that the church stands for forgiveness.

Pope Francis has a track record for shaking things up within the Catholic church.  He’s spoken out against priests who sexually abused children and even says gays are welcome to come to the church, although not condoning their lifestyle.  Tuesday Pope Francis made it clear that women who regret having an abortion can seek repentence.

“What is so curious about that is it's nothing new for the United States and Canada.  For the last about 30 years we have had permission any priest in good standing with faculties can absolve any women, but seemingly this was not necessarily so in the rest of the world.  So this is basically announcing to the rest of the world that this is where we need to be,” Father Strieder said.

He says back in the day women in the U.S. could be forgiven for this sin by going to a bishop.  He says priests took over this role in the early 80s.

“What we announce is God is bigger than our sinfulness and any act we might do.  So I don't sense in anyway this is condoning any kind of sin or immoral activity. It's basically saying we are imperfect sometimes we make grave mistakes but God is bigger than that,” Strieder said.

He adds that what Pope Francis’ has done isn’t a big game-changer.

“Actually he's not really changing anything, just giving it a different expression in hopes that people young and old can be more open to seeing what the full message of Jesus and the church is,” Strieder said.

Father Streider emphasizes that the church stands for forgiveness.  Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia September 26.