Pope Francis has allowed all Roman Catholic priests the power to 'forgive' abortion, a power previously reserved for bishops or special confessors.
Pope Francis, who has made a more inclusive and forgiving church a characteristic of his papacy, made the announcement in a document known as an "apostolic letter" after Sunday's close of the Catholic Church's "Holy Year of Mercy".
Through the declaration, the pontiff made permanent a temporary measure he had put in place for the Vatican's jubilee year.
"I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion," he said.
The 79-year-old said he had to "restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life".
Yesterday, as he brought the jubilee to an end by closing the bronze-panelled Holy Door in Saint Peter's Square, Pope Francis gave an interview in which he slammed abortion as "a horrendous crime".
But he said today that the end of the special year did not mean the end of mercy itself, and so-called sinners must be given a chance to repent. The Church considers abortion to be a sin.
"I can and must state that 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," he said in the letter.
"May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation."