(CNN) —Pope Francis has made a major change in the way the Catholic Church treats women who have had an abortion, dropping the requirement that they have a bishop's permission to lift the ban of their excommunication.
But the change in policy will apply only during the Holy Year that runs from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.
Until now, women who have had an abortion, as well as those who helped procure an abortion, were automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church and needed the permission of a bishop in order to lift the ban of excommunication.
Pope Francis has now declared that any priest may absolve a woman of the sin of abortion during confession, effectively lifting the excommunication.
Many women 'believe that they have no other option'
"I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision," the Pope said of women who've had an abortion, in a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican.
Many women, the Pope said, "believe that they have no other option."
"I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it," the letter said.
Pope Francis' decree does not change Catholic Church teachings about the gravity of the sin of abortion, which Church law calls a "moral evil."