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In a letter released Monday, Pope Francis stated priests could continue to forgive women for having abortions, extending a special dispensation that began last year for "the Year of Mercy," which ended Sunday.
According to the letter, abortion would still be considered "a grave sin since it puts an end to an innocent life," but "there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father."
While the Pope's extension of forgiveness to women who have had abortions falls short of total acceptance, it does allow for communication between Roman Catholics and their leaders on the issue. Women who had sought abortions do not need to feel exiled from the church and can share their stories with religious leaders.
"The practical effect of Francis' announcement remains unclear," CNN reports, but "it draws attention to the prevailing theme of his papacy: That the doors of the Church must remain open, just as God's forgiveness and mercy extend to all those who repent from sin."
However, despite public perception of Pope Francis as among the more liberal pontiffs, he has appointed leaders who speak out against transgender rights, divorce, and homosexuality.