, VATICAN CITY, Dec 6 – Pope Francis will this week launch an “extraordinary” Roman Catholic Jubilee on the theme of mercy during which priests will be allowed to absolve women who have had abortions.
In the latest incarnation of a 700-year-old Catholic tradition, Tuesday will mark the beginning of a holy period of just under a year in which believers are encouraged to renew their relationship with God and seek forgiveness for their sins.
Francis set a new tone for this Jubilee with his surprise announcement in September that he would be granting every priest the discretion to absolve women for having had abortions.
Catholic Church dogma considers terminating a pregnancy a heinous sin, and it is normally punishable by excommunication.
Pro-choice groups are sceptical about whether many women – or doctors who carry out abortions for that matter – will avail themselves of the pope’s offer to confess.
Instead, many Vatican watchers saw the move as another example of Francis signalling his desire to change the Church’s approach from condemnation of wrongdoing to an understanding of the difficulties faced by 21st-century believers.
“The greater the sin, the greater the love the Church must express,” the Argentinean pontiff said when he announced the extraordinary Jubilee in March on the second anniversary of his election.
At the time, many interpreted Francis’ move as highly political, coming as it did just four months after his plans for reform of attitudes to divorce and homosexuality had run into fierce opposition from traditionalist bishops at a synod on the family.
The jubilee runs until November 20, 2016. As has been the case for seven centuries, pilgrims visiting Rome will be able to mark the occasion by entering St Peter’s and other famous churches through special Holy Doors that are kept bricked up between Jubilees.