Professor says Vatican’s announcement will bring lapsed Catholics back to the church

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The Vatican announced on Tuesday that Pope Francis will grant all Roman Catholic priests the authority to absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

R. Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D., the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and a professor of religious studies in Virginia Commonwealth University's School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, said Pope Francis’ move will bring lapsed Catholics back to the church.

“Pope Francis' decision to allow priests to absolve women who have procured abortions consolidates his reputation as the Pope of Mercy and as a master strategist in the effort to bring back lapsed Catholics into the fold,” he said.

Chesnut added the decision will have a particular impact in Pope Francis’ native Latin America, which is home to 40 percent of the world's Catholics and also has the world's highest abortion rate, and in the United States.

“Scores of women there and around the world have been compelled to leave the church for committing what's considered a ‘grave sin,’” he said. “His one-year jubilee also comes on the eve of his visit to the U.S., where abortion has been front and center for many American bishops.”

Chesnut, an expert on Latin American religious history, is available to speak with the media about this topic. To arrange an interview, contact Brian McNeill,bwmcneill@vcu.edu804-827-0889.