Pope Francis has given two incredible indults in preparation for the Year of Mercy: he has given all priests throughout the world the ability to forgive the sin of abortion and he has authorized the SSPX priests throughout the world to give a valid absolution in confession, something that no SSPX priest had been able to do up to this point.
The two indults are linked because both hinge on the priest's ability to forgive sins. A priest's ability to forgive sins comes from the bishop whose authority he lives under. If a bishop wishes to reserve the absolution for a specific sin to himself, his priests do not have the ability to grant absolution for that sin. It isn't a question of the priest deciding whether or not to absolve - even if he attempts absolution, the absolution would fail, because the bishop had not granted him the power to do it.
Thus, SSPX priests - who do not recognize the episcopal authority of the bishop installed by the Pope, but instead pretend they gain authority from some other unspecified source - have not ever been able to grant valid absolutions. Similarly, while American bishops have uniformly granted the ability to absolve abortion to American priests, not all bishops throughout the world have given their priests this permission. The Pope has essentially directed all bishops throughout the world to grant (1) faculties to SSPX priests, and (2) faculties for absolution of abortion to all priests, SSPX or not.
Over the centuries, various popes have considered the culture they lived in and have tried various methods by which to decrease the grievous sin of abortion, from granting the right to absolve to all priests, or only to bishops, or even only to the Pope himself. In 1588, for example, Pope Sixtus V tried discouraging abortion by reserving confession and absolution to the Holy See alone, a restriction used for only the most heinous sins.
Pope Francis has contemplated our current culture and decided that it is time to return the ability to absolve this sin to all priests everywhere. This doesn't change the gravity of the sin, it changes the Church's prudential decision about how best to help lessen the incidence of this particular grievous sin. Changes in culture often call for changes in discipline. This is an instance of that fact.
Many SSPX'ers and their supporters will now claim "the Vatican has realized that the SSPX are not schismatic revolutionaries but instead Catholic patriots who don't want to see 2000 years of Latin rite tradition and teaching tossed into the dumpster for the kumbaya mass and coloring book cafeteria Catholicism."
In fact, quite the opposite has occurred.
The Church has long recognized that the SSPX are schismatics who have trashed 2000 years of Church teaching into the dumpster when they dumped the Second Vatican Council.
However, in her mercy, She grants the SSPX mercies that the followers of that particular cult would simply never grant to other Christians, in the hope that by this example, SSPX hearts would be softened and they would return to full communion with the one true Church. By this decree, Pope Francis has given an extraordinary demonstration of the extravagant mercy of God.
And again, the two indults are deeply linked. Abortion kills a human person, false absolution kills the soul of both the one attempting to grant it and the one who fails to receive real absolution. By granting these twin indults, Pope Francis has engaged in both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He is truly leading us by his example.
Let us hope those attracted to abortion and/or the SSPX hear him, understand what he has done for them, and turn from their evil ways.