09/02/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 09/02/2015 07:59 EDT

Pope Tells Priests They Can Pardon Women Who Have Had Abortions Next Year

This Jubilee Year of Mercy is meant to be one of compassion.

As far as sins go, in the Catholic church abortion is considered a "moral evil" — which results in automatic excommunication from the church. Now, Pope Francis is encouraging priests to forgive women who have abortions — but only during the church's Jubilee Year of Mercy.

A Jubilee Year is one called by the church to receive blessings from God, as well as forgiveness for sins, according to National Catholic Reporter. They traditionally occur every 25 to 50 years (the last one was in 2000), while "extraordinary jubilee years" can also be called by the Pope.

"I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision," the Pope wrote in a letter published by the Vatican on Tuesday. He went on to say, "the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father."

Abortion is a hot button topic in both politics and religion. CNN reports that 51 per cent of American Catholics are in favour of legal abortions, while 45 per cent say abortion should be considered illegal in all or most cases.

Members of the clergy — specifically a bishop, missionary or chief confessor or a diocese — are able to offer absolution for abortion, according to Reuters, but this announcement makes that ability far more widespread.

Pope Francis, like Pope John Paul II, is well-liked among young Catholics for his tolerance and his willingness to talk about previously taboo issues. Since he became pontiff in 2013, Francis has helped soften the church's tone on subjects like homosexuality, divorced Catholics, the poor and the sick.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy starts on the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2015, and runs through Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.

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