Archive for November, 2016

Social Work with the Poor: The Temptation to Play God

Monday, November 7th, 2016



By Kevin Burke, LSW

Early in my social work career I served as the director of a shelter for pregnant women and children in a poor neighborhood with all manner of family dysfunction and economic challenges.   Grounded in our faith and values, abortion was never an option for a young woman coming to us for assistance.

But I am a minority in my profession. Many of my colleagues see abortion as a necessary evil, especially for those in poor communities where single parent families, addictions, and violence are far too common. Most of my fellow social workers will vote this Election Day for political parties and candidates that they believe will advance the public good by making more  abortion services available to poor women.

Working in communities with great suffering, cycles of abuse and dysfunction can be overwhelming. There is a temptation over time to play God.  No one wants to feel powerless in the face of evil and injustice.  We naturally want to take control, help others assume control of their chaotic lives and break out of the cycles of abuse and poverty that can span generations. Empowering others to assume control and responsibility for their lives is of course a worthy goal of social work intervention.

Yet when taking control means ending the life of a unique member of the human family, we have crossed a chasm that in time drags us and those we serve into deeper sin, blindness and dysfunction.

Our poorest communities have not been blessed by their high rates of abortion.  It’s just the opposite; more abuse, addiction, family dysfunction and death.  Now some candidates in 2016 are telling us we need more public funding for groups like Planned Parenthood to fund contraception and abortion services for the poor.

In the last year alone 325,000 unborn boys and girls died in the womb of their mothers at Planned Parenthood facilities.

Social Work in the Vineyard

I have also spent many years as a social worker in Rachel’s Vineyard helping those who have participated in the death of an unborn child find reconciliation, peace and closure.

The memorial service on Sunday of the weekend program is both beautiful – and deeply painful. Once a parent or grandparent is given an opportunity to open their heart to the truth of their child’s unique life, they can experience the fullness of that loss.  In Rachel’s Vineyard they receive the precious gift of a spiritual relationship with their son or daughter now, and the hope of a reunion in the life to come.

There is peace and closure…yet there is still a heartache that remains. It is now a healthy and healing grief, but also a yearning for what could have been.

Election Day 2016 – It’s Time to Stop Playing God

When you vote on Election Day please reflect on the following; as a nation we need to find peaceful solutions to an unplanned pregnancy. There are no simple answers to the chaos, abuse, addictions and family dysfunction in our poorest communities.

But as a social worker with years of service with the poor and with those wounded by abortion, I can assure you that destroying our unborn children in the womb, and wounding their parents, will never bring peace and blessing to this nation.

Catholics and all Christians need to send a clear message to all political candidates and parties:

We need non-violent solutions to unplanned pregnancy and the challenges faced by poor communities.

Life and death are the Providence of the Creator. We have to stop playing God – or the Creator of Life will allow us to continue to experience the consequences of this most grave and original of sins.

Those consequences have been eating away at the fabric of our nation, our families and communities.

There is still time…but the hour is late.

Vicarious Trauma: Caring for Our Pro-Life First Responders

Friday, November 4th, 2016



By Kevin Burke, LSW

When we hear of vicarious trauma, we often think of first responders; the brave men and women who serve as firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police officers.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of caring for these public servants after repeated exposure to accidents, violence, injury, loss of life, and other tragedy. The Trauma Center of the Justice Resource Institute indicates that the longer the exposure to such events, the higher likelihood symptoms of post- traumatic stress will surface.

There is another Population of First Responders

These women and men are frequently marginalized, cursed, and ridiculed as they try and protect the innocent and advocate for their lives.  They are ignored or maligned by the media, society and sadly sometimes even by their own faith communities.

They are the pro-life advocates on the front lines:

– Counselor Donna Gardner, shares about her work with a pregnancy care counselor helping an abortion minded client:

   “I worked with one counselor who developed an ongoing relationship with a pregnant mother. The counselor naturally developed a close working relationship with this mother and child.  The mother abruptly stopped coming to appointments.  She later learned the mother aborted her 5 month old baby.  She was emotionally devastated by this loss.”  [1]

– June Matson has been the director of Pregnancy Resource Connection in Granby Colorado for the past 26 years.   Their center has an ultrasound machine. In most cases seeing the ultrasound image of the unborn child helps many mothers to continue with their pregnancy.

Sadly some parents still make the tragic decision to abort their child. June shared that not only the ultrasound technician, but all volunteers present at the center during the time of the mother’s visit are impacted by the loss of this unborn child.                   

– A Front Line Pro-Life Advocate praying in front of an abortion business approaches a woman with love.   She tries to engage her in a life affirming decision for her unborn baby. The mother goes into the abortion center and comes out with an empty womb. The pro-lifer who has encountered this mother and child is naturally intimately connected to and deeply touched by this abortion loss.

– Women and men pray before abortion centers in all kinds of weather interceding for the conversion of the employees, for the parents and their babies. At times they are cursed at, spit upon, mocked and abused by pro-abortion activists and sometimes an angry parent, grandparent or friend of the pregnant mother.

– Pro life advocates may suffer from the Institutional Spiritual Neglect of their religious leaders and churches.   They stand for years on the front lines of the abortion battles, praying, educating, and legislating to try and save unborn lives and protect their parents from abortion complications. These spiritual children can feel ostracized, marginalized and unappreciated by their spiritual fathers.  This causes deep pain and grief that may be expressed as bitterness, anger and depression.

Disenfranchised Grief

Therapist Donna Gardner shares an experience that can help us better understand the disenfranchised grief of pro-life advocates [2]:

I recently spoke with an older group of pro-life veterans who spent years in pro life ministry and advocacy.  I asked them to close their eyes and bring to mind one particular situation; think of that one baby lost to abortion that especially touched you deeply.  They all began to tear up and express the grief that has been hidden in their hearts for many years.

As previously noted, the effects of trauma can be cumulative.  After repeated exposure to situations where a pro-life advocate is unable to save an unborn child, while continuing to face the hostility or indifference of the wider community, they can reach a tipping point.

The repressed grief and pain can emerge in symptoms that can impact life and relationships.  Keep in mind a single event where one is unable to prevent a tragic death can also lead to some of these feelings and symptoms:

– Anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability and anger.

– Withdrawing and isolating from others.

– Some may experience a sense of confusion, distance and darkness in their spiritual life and relationship with God.

– Nightmares, flashbacks, or other intrusive thoughts or memories of the event.

– Using substances to avoid feelings, feeling numb, spacing out, or feeling as if things are unreal [3]

[In part II of this series, we will explore the good news of how what we have learned in abortion recovery programs can help minister to those women and men on the front lines of pro life advocacy.]


[1] Thankfully she was able to find emotional and spiritual healing and closure by attending a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend.

[2] Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged by society.

[3] Regan, Laura. When Helping Hurts: Trauma’s Effects on First Responders. Good Therapy.Org, February 12th 2015.