A Special Message for Catholics Who Have Been Involved in an Abortion
In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, paragraph 99), Pope John Paul II has a special message for women who have had an abortion:
would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion.
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your
decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and
even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have
healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do
not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to
understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already
done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The
Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in
the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and His mercy you
can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help
and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful
experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's
right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the
birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in
need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new
way of looking at human life.* * * * * * * * * *
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope (p. 206-207), Pope John Paul II writes:
...we are witnessing true human tragedies. Often the woman is the victim of male selfishness, in the sense that the man, who has contributed to the conception of the new life, does not want to be burdened with it and leaves the responsibility to the woman, as if it were "her fault" alone. So, precisely when the woman most needs the man's support, he proves to be a cynical egotist, capable of exploiting her affection or weakness, yet stubbornly resistant to any sense of responsibility for his own action . . .
...[In] firmly rejecting "pro-choice" it is necessary to become courageously "pro-woman," promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. It is precisely the woman, in fact, who pays the highest price, not only for her motherhood, but even more for its destruction, for the suppression of the life of the child who has been conceived. The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone. The experiences of many counseling centers show that the woman does not want to suppress the life of the child she carries within her. If she is supported in this attitude, and if at the same time she is freed from the intimidation of those around her, then she is even capable of heroism. As I have said, numerous counseling centers are witness to this . . .
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"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction . . . all these things are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury." (Gaudium et Spes, 27).
There are two major dimensions of post-abortion healing. One is spiritual, the other is communal. One woman who thought she was fully healed after confessing her sin to Jesus later discovered that sharing her experience with other post-aborted women offered another kind of healing: "While it takes the blood of Jesus to deliver us from guilt, it takes the acceptance of others to deliver us from shame."
This spiritual and communal aspect of reconciliation is evident in the earthly ministry of Christ. "During his public life, Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1443).
For Catholic women and men, the Sacrament of Reconciliation must be at the heart of the healing process. Guided by Scriptural mandates (Mt. 16:19; John 20:23; 2 Cor. 5:18-20), the priest is "the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner. The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant" (CCC 1465-1466). In the process of reconciliation, the priest is uniquely able to act as a representative of both God and community. As an ordained priest, he represents God's mercy, which releases the sinner from guilt. Simultaneously, as a merely human member of the parish, he is also able to represent the support of the community which, together with him, prays for the peace and joy of the sinner and the sinner's release from the bondage of shame. Through this sacrament the sinner is reunited with the entire community of repentant sinners who share Christ's table.
Originally printed in The Jericho Plan (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books.) Copyright 1996, David C. Reardon.