Pope Francis despatches 1,000 'super-confessor' priests
Pope Francis has sent more than 1,000 priests on a global mission to forgive grave sins that normally only he, or a top Church official, may pardon.
The Missionaries of Mercy, nicknamed the super-confessors, were given the special license for the Vatican's Jubilee year, which ends in November.
Grave sins include defiling consecrated bread and wine, violating confessional secrecy, and plotting to kill a pope.
Pope Francis has often said the Church needs to be less rigid and judgemental.
He has declared this a Holy Year of Mercy, and is using it to spread a message of forgiveness - particularly among Catholics who have strayed from the faith and are keen to return.
At a Vatican ceremony on Tuesday, the Pope addressed some 700 of the chosen priests, saying penitents should be welcomed with open arms, instead of being judged with "a sense of superiority".
"It's not with the cudgel of judgment that we will succeed in bringing the lost sheep back to the fold,'' he told a gathering in the Apostolic Palace.
The priests have been selected from dioceses around the world, and are expected to carry out their special mission in countries including Burundi, Egypt, China and the United Arab Emirates.
One of the priests is expected to travel among Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic, while another one is planning to tour remote parts of Australia in a van.
The grave sins that the priests can temporarily forgive may usually only be pardoned by senior bishops, Vatican officials or the Pope himself.
Abortion falls within the category of serious transgressions, but the Pope last year announced that he would allow all regular priests to grant absolution for this sin to women who wished to repent, for the duration of the Holy Year.
The Pope said that he recognised some women felt they had no choice but to take the "agonising" decision to have an abortion.