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Pope Francis’ controversial abortion comments still put women at men’s mercy

Pope Francis has announced that during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, Roman Catholic priests have permission to absolve women who have had abortions of their sins.

If you’re a conservative Catholic, this may be shattering news. After all, the church has very strict views on abortion: It’s a terrible sin worthy of excommunication.

I’m not a conservative Catholic, and this announcement upsets me too, although not for the same reason.

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I grew up Catholic, and I try not to crap all over anyone’s faith. But it sickens me to the core that Catholic women who may have already suffered emotional and physical trauma from terminating a pregnancy have to deal with guilt and shame from the church. Although this movement may provide some women with much-needed healing, it doesn’t change the fact that giving priests short-lived power to forgive women is a ridiculously archaic, highly patriarchal way of thinking.

Because Catholic priests can only be men, the church is telling these women that they may only confess and seek absolution from a man. Yet abortion is incredibly unique to women. (Yes, terminating a pregnancy can affect a man, but that’s not the point here.)

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I’m not going to high-five Pope Francis over this one. I appreciate that he’s had a groundbreaking run of papacy so far, but I can’t stomach a structure that tells women they can only seek forgiveness from men — and only during a specific year in their lifetimes. Before you tell me that these priests aren’t absolving women of their sins — God is — keep in mind that priests are being given discretion to determine if a woman is truly contrite.

I fully acknowledge that for some women this may provide an opportunity for healing. To those who are strong in their faith and the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the absolution is a gift. It just breaks my heart that it takes the rulings of men to give these women the forgiveness they need to feel.

I struggle with a system that puts so many man-shaped roadblocks between women and their beliefs.

And if this is an act of mercy, why has it been such a long time coming? And why is there an expiration date on it?

Why can’t Catholic women unburden themselves in a way that doesn’t involve pleading to a man for forgiveness?

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While women fight for the right to terminate a pregnancy safely and without prohibitive restrictions, they must continue to fight deep stigma associated with abortion. This act of mercy from the pope perpetuates the stigma even as it gives Catholic women a chance to make peace with their choices as they relate to their faith. It’s a heavy reminder that feminism and women’s rights can be tied to religion in complicated ways that don’t mesh with every woman’s worldview.

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