By Mike DeNardo

By Mike DeNardo

VATICAN CITY (CBS) — Pope Francis says he’s giving all priests the authority to forgive women of the “sin of abortion” if they are repentant.

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The church still considers abortion a serious sin. But in a letter, Pope Francis is granting all priests the authority to forgive women who have had abortions, if they are contrite.

Priests will have the power during the church’s Year of Mercy that begins in December.

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Dr. William Madges, a professor of theology at St. Joesph’s University, says it’s not about minimizing the seriousness of abortion, but about the pope’s desire to expand capacity for mercy.

“I think it’s one additional piece of evidence of how throroughly committed he is to understand God, and by extension, to understand his paschal ministry to be first and foremost about compassion and mercy.”

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Normally, only bishops can grant permission to forgive the sin of abortion. The pope’s action expends that authority to all priests for one year.