I was recently at a party where the topic of religion and abortion came up. A Christian minister overheard the discussion and abruptly interjected:
“Abortion is a private and sensitive issue. Whatever your position on abortion, Sunday services are not the place to talk about the subject. We can’t let politics get in the way of preaching the Gospel.”
Maybe you agree with this minister.
The Shockwaves of Abortion
There have been nearly 60 million abortions since 1973.
Does the silence of the church communicate compassion to those who experienced an abortion? Is it sensitive and respectful to avoid addressing this issue with the countless fathers, grandparents, family and friends that are intimately part of many abortion decisions?
Or does this silence reinforce denial and ignore the deep pain and grief of those who desperately need to hear a message of healing and reconciliation?
Leslie suffered for many years with periods of depression, anxiety and nightmares connected to her two abortions at age 16 and 19. Leslie medicated her pain with alcohol, and later when she married, she was involved in a number of shameful and secret extramarital affairs. Later she was given prescription drugs prescribed by her family doctor to treat depression, anxiety and insomnia. None of the therapist or medical professionals she went to for help asked if there were any abortions in her history.
But what really hurt and angered Leslie was the failure of her spiritual leaders to recognize this hidden pain:
“If I had heard a compassionate and hope-filled message from my minister talking about how abortion can hurt some women and men and their relationships and families…if I heard after my first abortion that there were healing programs available for people like me…I may have been able to prevent the death of my second child and get the help I needed much earlier in my life. I may have been able to save my husband and my children from living for years with the symptoms of this wound that was festering in my heart and soul. That pain led me to do things and try to cope in ways that hurt not only me and my relationship with God, but those I loved the most.
Maybe hearing about women like me would help others understand that - yes an unplanned pregnancy is a life changing event that can be filled with fear and uncertainty – but abortion also changes your life in a powerful way. For me, it brought years of pain and suffering…it was only later that I learned how the symptoms I suffered were rooted in the deep grief from those two abortions…a grief I kept buried for many years.
Good News from Ireland
To be fair, our church leaders struggle with the same thing many of us do in our families, workplaces and churches:
- How do we address this sensitive topic in a way that does not hurt or alienate those that have been part of abortion decisions – especially those that have experienced the procedure and lost a child to abortion…yet does not compromise the moral truth that abortion is a grave sin against God and the dignity of the human person?
Is this even possible?
Fr. Pat Scanlan P.P. has been serving in Parish ministry since his ordination in 1977 for the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland and has been a member of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat team in Cork since 2003.
The following interview with Fr. Pat is an excerpt from the book Sharing the Heart of Christ:
Fr. Pat, how long have you been involved in post abortion ministry?
Since my ordination to the priesthood in June 1977, I have met with many women and some men who have been wounded by abortion. Almost invariably they were crying out for forgiveness and healing. In my experience the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation marks a decisive step in their journey towards recovery. Yet I have always felt that they needed something more. What that something was, I was not so sure. Yes the sin had been forgiven, but they had a deep need for healing and restoration.
How did you get involved with Rachel’s Vineyard?
In the summer of 2003, I had a phone call from a good friend Bernadette Goulding who shared with me her excitement at having discovered a movement called Rachel’s Vineyard…
Can you share from your experience serving as a member of the Retreat Team?
Being involved in these weekends certainly ranks among the most rewarding experiences of my priesthood….
It is not an exaggeration to say that on each weekend we experience miracles of grace. The participants usually arrive bowed down by too many years of grief and self –loathing. Slowly, gradually as they enter into the process of the weekend they get in touch with, express, release and reconcile deep painful post abortive emotions…As they leave to return home on Sunday afternoon, many of them will have experienced the Mercy of the Lord at a very deep level. A grace that is truly amazing has touched wounded hearts and made of them beloved disciples who will in turn become instruments of his compassion to others…
How has your work in post abortion healing impacted your preaching?
Prior to my involvement in Rachel’s Vineyard I often felt a bit scared at the prospect of preaching the Gospel of Life. I was conscious that in any congregation there may be one or more who had experienced abortion, and I was never sure how to effectively proclaim the truth while at the same time witnessing to compassion.
The truth without compassion is a lethal weapon particularly for wounded souls. Compassion without the truth is a cruel deception.
Now I actually enjoy preaching the Gospel of Life. I know from my experience of Rachel’s Vineyard that the Gospel is truly Good News…I usually tell my congregation that what I want to share is what I have learned from women and men, who have had abortions and how the Good Shepherd is waiting to embrace, heal and forgive them. I share in a gentle compassionate way that abortion wounds the lives of mothers and fathers. I know that if there are women and men present who have had abortion they will identify, and realize that the church wants to help them.
I have had people come to me afterwards to find out more about Rachel’s Vineyard. For the remainder of the congregation, when I then proceed to present the church’s teaching on the right to life of the unborn it is but an obvious and positive conclusion to be embraced, once they have heard a little about post abortion suffering.
The Harvest is Plentiful!
You can see in Fr. Pat’s feedback the awesome possibilities for ministry and evangelization if we can extend a message or reconciliation and healing in our churches for all those impacted by the Shockwaves of Abortion. Sharing the Heart of Christ is a great resource for Priests, Deacons, Counselors and Laity in ministry to those suffering after abortion. The book provides a brief overview of some key issues in ministry to those with abortion loss, but also pastoral concerns and sample homilies to assist in preaching about this topic with truth, sensitivity and mercy.
Here’s what Bishop Robert Vasa had to say about Sharing the Heart of Christ:
Sharing the Heart of Christ provides an assurance of hope for genuine healing and peace for those afflicted with many manifestations of unresolved post-abortive guilt, grief and shame. This work helps us further understand the nature of the abortion trauma, the reason for its persistence and the possibility of healing. It is a book filled with hope. Here we learn how the healing power of God’s grace coupled with sound psychiatric principles can and does, in the midst of a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, produce an abundant harvest of healing and peace. I had the privilege of participating in a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat several years ago. The power of the experience continues to have an impact upon me. May God bless and reward your good work. - Robert F. Vasa, Bishop of Santa Rosa, California
Share this blog with your minister, priest or pastor today…better yet get them a copy of Sharing the Heart of Christ.