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Dealing with the Pain of an Abortion
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington, DC
Catholic Standard - Washington, DC
Abortion has been legally protected in the United States since 1973. In the intervening time, tens of millions of abortions have been performed on an estimated 20 million women, and millions and millions of human lives have ended before they saw the light of day. For too many of the women involved, they are told, "You are free, move on, nothing of consequence happened." Yet, they know this is not true.
Tragically, large numbers of women know all too well the anguish and grief that can follow an abortion decision. These women recognize that what they did was wrong, but mistakenly believe that they have committed an unforgivable sin and have become forever separated from their relationship with God. Thinking that they are unique in experiencing this type of suffering, they all too often silently endure the emotional and physical manifestations of this trauma alone.
As followers of Christ, our response to abortion must be twofold. We must never forget the child whose life is lost to abortion. Each child is valuable and precious in God's eyes and in our hearts. At the same time, we must recognize and address the real need of women to find healing after an abortion experience. The Catholic Church, which never minimizes the grave evil that is abortion, has been at the forefront in offering hope for healing and reconciliation from the pain of abortion. In this archdiocese, we collectively can say, "To all who have had an abortion or who have facilitated one, the Church continues to hold out the loving mercy and forgiveness of Christ."
Forgiveness and healing are found through this beautiful sacrament, which restores and renews our baptismal holiness as we ask for forgiveness for our sins. Once we receive sacramental absolution we are restored again to holiness Ð to an innocence before God. So powerful is the grace of this sacrament that the Rite of Penance reminds us that "this is not a mere ritual repetition or psychological exercise, but a serious striving to perfect the grace of Baptism so that, as we bear in our body the death of Jesus Christ, his life may be seen in us ever more clearly" (Introduction 7).
The Sacrament of Penance is one essential element in the post-abortion healing process. In this sacrament, the penitent is guided by the grace of God in a conversion that leads us back to the Father, overcoming the tragic alienation of sin and restoring harmony.
Another aspect of the post-abortion healing process is Project Rachel. This outreach is a source of healing for those hurting from an abortion experience. All who contact Project Rachel will find a caring and non-judgmental response from someone who understands the issues that lead to the doors of an abortion clinic. This support is available in English and Spanish through a confidential phone helpline (301-853-4565), confidential e-mail ProjectRachel@adw.org (English) or ProyectoRaquel@adw.org (Spanish) and a website www.hopeafterabortion.com.
All of us, not just priests and professional counselors, are called to respond with compassion and prayer for all women and men who are hurting from abortion, and to bring to light the very real pain of post-abortion trauma. Often we may not know the secret that a neighbor, a family member or a fellow parishioner holds; namely, that he or she participated in the evil of abortion. Only by our willingness to understand how someone may end up at that point and to love and want to help the person and by the Spirit's gentle urging may someone come forth to share this sin and begin the road to reconciliation and healing. For you who may have been involved in an abortion and who are suffering in silence, please know that you are not alone and that compassionate help is available for you.
The Sacrament of Penance and the efforts of Project Rachel are available to all who seek healing and wholeness. The Church stands ready to be an instrument of Jesus' compassion. We especially invoke Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, to assist us in bearing one another's burdens. May these words and our prayers and actions be steps on the road to reconciliation.
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