As always, the media seems to have not fully understood what the Pope did and so there are some confusing or misstated notions out there. I wanted to write a brief post to clear up a few things:
ABORTION COULD ALWAYS BE FORGIVEN. I was watching ABC News tonight and the broadcaster said, the Pope's decree means that "abortion can now be forgiven." This gives the impression that somehow the Church held a prior position that abortion was unforgivable. The impression is that if you found yourself in the impossible situation of procuring an abortion, that was it, no more hope for a life with God. One strike, you're out.
This could not be further from the truth. Many women, or their spouses or partners, have often come to the Church to seek God's forgiveness for their actions. But, according to Canon Law, since an abortion also brought with it latae sententiae (= automatic) excommunication, the priest needed to consult with their Bishop to lift that excommunication. Another option would be in dioceses were certain priests have been given the faculty for this. Either way, it was a more complicated process and took a bit more time, but forgiveness was always available.
So, what is the meaning of Pope Francis' action? My opinion is that the Pope wants to encourage people to seek out God's mercy. In my own personal experience with this, I have encountered many women who feel as though their actions have permanently separated them from God; that their sin is too great; that they are beyond forgiveness. To hear the words that God offers them forgiveness bring about a healing that is powerful, that is lasting and that is transformative in people's lives.