The Holy Year typically only comes once every 25 to 50 years, with the most recent in 2000.
“Pope Francis is just pulling this one out of nowhere,” Lasky said. “Not nowhere — it’s somewhere in his heart — but he has seen so much of the suffering that people carry in the world and he’s saying, ‘Let’s bring everybody home.’”
Pope Francis said in his letter that women should be given an opportunity to repent.
“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision,” he said.
But in the U.S. and Canada, priests already have the authority — or faculty, described by the Pope — said David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
“In the Catholic Church, a person who has an abortion or participates in an abortion commits this very serious, very grave sin,” Hains said. “During the Holy Year of Mercy, all priests will have the authority to absolve someone who comes to them and confesses to this sin.”
He said the Catholic Church revised Canonical law in 1983 to give priests the authority to absolve higher-order sins, including abortion. Before 1983, this faculty was within bishops’ jurisdiction, though they could grant priests the power to absolve sin in their name.
But many priests and bishops trained in pre-1983 Catholicism still think “in the old way,” said Evyatar Marienberg, UNC religious studies professor.
He said for them, the Pope’s announcement will have a greater effect.
“Legally speaking, his statement changes little. But for people’s mentality, it makes a difference,” Marienberg said. “His statement has a pastoral flavor, or a moral flavor, rather than a legal flavor.”
But Lasky said laws are necessary to guide the church, regardless of any distinction between morality and legality.
“Law is meant to create space and freedom,” he said. “It’s meant to create creativity and grace — and what (Pope Francis) is trying to do is open the floodgates of all of that by extending this faculty to all priests around the world.”