For Roman Catholics, the Holy Year, which begins Dec. 8, is described as a period of remission from the consequences of sin. And for this Holy Year, Pope Francis is tackling one of the most divisive issues for Catholics: abortion. He has ordered priests to offer forgiveness both to women who have had abortions and the doctors who performed them, reports the U.K.'s Mirror.

Abortion is still considered one of the most serious sins in the Catholic faith and normally results in excommunication. It is usually forgiven by only high-ranking clergy, or if a pilgrimage is made to Rome during a Holy Year. But Francis, the Harley-Davidson-riding pontiff who isn't judgmental about homosexuality and critiques trickle-down economics, wants priests to be seen as "missionaries of mercy" worldwide and to forgive even the most serious sins according to the Catholic faith.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella said the pope meant the gesture “as a concrete sign that a priest must be a man of mercy and close to all,” reported the Mirror. In a Bull of Indiction document explaining how he wants Catholics to celebrate Holy Year, Francis said the church must be “an oasis of mercy," adding, “The church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

The Catholic Church has not had good PR relating to its abortion stance. The United Nations condemned the Vatican for excommunicating the mother and doctor of a 9-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather, became pregnant with twins and had an abortion in Brazil in 2009. And in March, Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran provoked outrage when he told Irish radio station Newstalk that rape victims who sought abortions did so to “get back” at their attackers.

But Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis was worried the pope's gesture could cause confusion among Catholics, underscoring the church's position to La Nazione, reported the Mirror. "He is the pope of mercy and wants to show the benevolence of the church toward sinners," the cardinal said. "This does not cancel the sin of abortion."