Pope Francis began his papacy in 2013 after his predecessor, Benedict XVI, stepped down. File Photo by Stefano Spaziari/UPI. | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 7 (UPI) -- Pope Francis will send "missionaries of mercy" to absolve women for having abortions during a Holy Year of Mercy beginning in December.
Abortion will still be considered a sin by the Catholic church that can result in excommunication, but Francis' decision is apparently the first time a pope will ask priests worldwide to forgive women for having abortions.
Vatican Archbishop and President of the Pontifical Academy for Life Rino Fisichella said the move is "a concrete sign that a priest must be a man of mercy and close to all."
The "missionaries of mercy" priests will be chosen on their ability to preach well, particularly on the theme of mercy. They must also be "good confessors" that must not make the confessional feel like "a torture chamber," as Francis put it.
Patience and "an understanding of human fragility" are expected of the chosen priests, according to Fisichella.
The move is part of a year of mercy the pope announced last month.
The issue of abortion and the church's reaction to it was further discussed after a 9-year-old girl from Brazil was excommunicated in 2009 when she had an abortion after being raped by her stepfather. Her mother and the doctors who performed the abortion were excommunicated, as well.
Fisichella publicly criticized the decision to excommunicate them, stating it made the church seem "insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking in mercy."
The pope's announcement follows a series of controversial moves toward tolerance since his election in 2013, including meeting with a transgender man, suggesting that divorced people can take communion and that gay people should not be turned away from the church.