The full significance – canonically, ecumenically and theologically – of Francis’s bold move will be picked over for a long time. But its real point is to bring healing. Many suffer hugely as result of abortion, but it is a silent suffering, that in contemporary society can barely ever be acknowledged. Those who have taken the lives of the unborn long to unburden themselves, to admit to their sorrow, confusion and regret, and to find healing. This is what the Church – God’s heart amid humanity – exists for: a battlefield hospital, ready to tend the wounds inflicted by contemporary mythology about individual sovereignty.
Yet many are persuaded – by the strident voices asserting women’s “right” to abort – that the Catholic Church is a place of judgement and condemnation. If just some among these women in pain hear a different message – which given yesterday’s massive coverage is very likely – and if among those some take up this offer of liberation from guilt and a path back to God – which is also very likely – then Pope Francis’s grand gesture will have succeeded spectacularly.