Vatican City – Pope Francis says he will give all priests discretion during the Roman Catholic Church’s upcoming Holy Year to formally forgive women who have had abortions.

The Holy Year is from Dec. 8 to Nov. 26 and will focus on the theme of mercy.

The Argentine pontiff announced in a publication on Wednesday in Vatican City that this was in his latest move toward a more open and inclusive church.

Pope said in church teaching, abortion was such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication.

He noted that usually only designated clergy and missionaries could formally forgive abortions.

“But from Dec. 8 to Nov. 26, during an extraordinary Holy Year or “Jubilee” on the theme of mercy announced by Pope Francis in March, all priests will be able to do so.

He, however, in the letter decried the “existential and moral ordeal” faced by women who have terminated pregnancies.

Pope said he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of the agonising and painful decision’’.

Vatican Chief Spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, told reporters that this was no means an attempt to minimise the gravity of this sin but to widen the possibility of showing mercy.

Deputy Vatican Spokesman, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, said that for now the change would apply only during the Holy Year.

He said usually only a bishop, missionary or the chief confessor of a diocese, known by the Italian term penitenziere, could formally forgive an abortion.

Benedettini said the pope’s letter did not mention people who perform abortions.

The Holy Year is one of the 1.2 billion-member Church’s most important events, and sees faithful make pilgrimages to Rome and other religious sites around the world.

The event usually takes place every 25 years, unless a pope decrees an extraordinary one to bring attention to a particular topic or need.

The 2015 celebration will be the 29th Holy Year in the 700-year history of the tradition.

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