Source: allAfrica
Human rights defenders are celebrating a decision by Pope Francis to allow all Catholics priests to forgive the "grave sin" of abortion.

The Catholic Church, known for its tough stance on morality has, in the past, had procurers of abortion seek forgiveness only from bishops, unlike other sinners who confessed before priests. The church considers abortion murder and a terrible sin.

But as an extension of the Catholic Jubilee celebrations, the Pope had told priests to absolve women and health workers who procured an abortion or aided in one.

On Tuesday, the African Women's Development and Communication Network, which champions human and women's rights in 43 African countries, celebrated the Papal announcement.

They said it was a step towards liberalising the harsh attitude against calls for safe abortion.

"In the past, it was impossible for a woman to go all the way to the Pope to confess and it was like being told to die with your sins. But now that mission priests are accessible, it's a big step for the Roman Catholics," Femnet board chairman Emma Kaliya said.

She was speaking during an international conference on sexual reproductive health rights attended by religious and cultural leaders and the media in Lilongwe, Malawi.

"The church must have realised that even though abortion is a sin, it's also a health issue due to unsafe procurements that are the cause many deaths," she said.

Femnet head of advocacy Hellen Apila said Africa in particular faced a huge problem adopting international human rights laws, especially those dealing with safe abortion and domestic violence, due to religious and cultural beliefs.

"This is why we are training religious and cultural leaders to understand the human rights aspect of the laws they wrongly consider immoral," said Ms Apila.

In an Apostolic Letter signed on Sunday when the holy year ended, the Pope stressed that even though it was a grave sin in the eyes of the church to end an innocent life, "there is nothing beyond the reach of God's mercy".

"Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God's forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests by virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," said the 10-page letter.

By Anita Chepkoech

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