Pope Francis plans to send out specially selected priests as "missionaries of mercy" to absolve women who have had abortions, The Washington Post reports.
The effort, which includes reaching out to doctors and nurses who have performed abortions, will commence in the Holy Year of Mercy, which Francis has declared will be celebrated from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, the New York Post adds.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation (pictured), who announced the initiative, said the Church should always be in the absolution business.
Archbishop Fisichella, now the president of the council organizing Holy Year events, said the Pope's decision was intended "as a concrete sign that a priest must be a man of mercy and close to all."
"The missionaries of mercy are priests sent out by the Holy Father . . . as a tangible sign of how a priest should be a man of pardon, close to everyone," Archbishop Fisichella said.
"There are a number of clergy with the ability to pardon abortions already, it is not that rare," said Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, a Vatican spokesman.
But Church hard-liners warned that stepped-up efforts to forgive those involved in abortions could "cause confusion" among Catholics, the Post said.
"Regardless of this decision by the Pope, the Church will continue to consider abortion a sin. I hope it does not cause confusion," Italy's Cardinal Velasio de Paolis told the newspaper La Nazione. "He is the Pope of mercy and wants to show the benevolence of the Church towards sinners. This does not cancel the sin of abortion."
Pope Francis will send ‘missionaries of mercy’ to absolve women of abortion ‘sin’ (The Washington Post)
The Catholic Church will now forgive your abortion (The New York Post)