Speaking in an interview with Italian journal Civiltà Cattolica, published on Thursday, the Pope said a woman who goes to the confessional after having an abortion should be treated with mercy.
He described a woman with children who had an abortion during a previous failed marriage.
“The abortion is an enormous weight and a decision which she sincerely regrets. She would like to go forward with her Christian life. What can the confessional do?
“The confessional is not a torture room, but a place of mercy,” Pope Francis said, quoted in Corriere della Sera.
The Pope went further, criticizing the church for becoming “obsessed” over certain social issues.
“We cannot insist only on the issues of abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraception.
“A pastoral mission cannot be obsessed with transmitting disjoined messages on certain doctrines and imposing them persistently,” he said.
The blunt message will likely send shockwaves through the Catholic Church, which has in recent decades been sharply criticized for its intolerant approach to abortion, gay rights and contraception.
The comments are perhaps the boldest yet by Pope Francis, who was elected in March after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
In the first six months of his papacy the Argentine Pope has been praised by liberal Catholics for tackling issues over which some followers have felt alienated.
In July millions joined the Pope in Rio de Janeiro for an international youth festival, a sign that his fresh approach has repaired ties with young Catholics.