Pope Francis , the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has said that priests have the discretion to forgive women who have undergone abortions if they 'seek forgiveness' during the Holy Year of Mercy.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion, and those who undergo it are often excommunicated.

The Argentine Pope has been regarded as a more inclusive and liberated church leader than his predecessors.

In a statement released by the Vatican on Tuesday, Pope Francis said he was 'aware of the pressure' on the women to take the decision, and that they can be forgiven if they 'bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision'.

He stressed on forgiveness and mercy ahead of the 'Extraordinary Jubilee of the Mercy', and brought up the issue of abortion as a 'serious problem' in society. 

"One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails," the Pope said. 

He then pointed to those women who took the decision to abort under 'pressure' and an 'existential and moral ordeal'.  

"Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope."

Pope Francis then urged priests across the world to forgive women who have repented the decision to abort, and to also explain to them the 'gravity of the sin committed'. 

"The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, 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 itand who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence."