Teaching Our Faith — God’s abiding mercy

For this series of teaching editorials, writers will focus on the “Francis Effect,” especially in light of recent issues that our Holy Father has addressed.

For many years in the United States, most diocesan bishops, including the former and current archbishops of Louisville, have granted priests the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion. However, this was not the case everywhere. In a Sept. 1 letter to Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella, regarding the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis, in an act of compassion and mercy, granted permission for all priests worldwide “to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and continues through to the Solemnity of Christ the King in November of 2016, the Holy Father has stated that he wants to reach those who feel no hope that they can be forgiven and extend to them the Lord’s mercy and love.

The extension of God’s mercy from Pope Francis is of overwhelming consequence in light of current statistics. Statistics quoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reveal that one in three women in the United States will have an abortion by age 45. Feelings of hopelessness are often the case for those who have experienced abortion. Pope Francis is particularly reaching out to women, realizing that many were under tremendous pressure from significant people in their lives to terminate their pregnancies. Often, these women felt as though they had no choice.

For several years, I have had an opportunity to meet with women through Project Rachel, a confidential post-abortion ministry, and have seen the devastation abortion has caused to those who have experienced it. Many women develop coping mechanisms that allow them to continue on with their everyday lives following the abortion. As a result, it can take years before a woman begins to face and deal with the consequences of her abortion.

According to the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, there are several coping mechanisms that are common among women who have had one or more abortions. I have seen these firsthand in my experience of listening to the stories of women in Project Rachel. Women can “rationalize” their decision by telling themselves that the baby is better off. Often, they can “repress” their feelings by saying that, although it was a difficult decision, they would do it again given the same circumstances. Or, perhaps they felt as though there was no other choice, and they were being forced to have an abortion. This reflects the felt hopelessness of their situation.

Occasionally, women will attempt to “compensate” for their abortions by being overly involved in church activities, working in the pro-life movement, becoming a super mom or other high achievement activities. Under all this “success,” I have witnessed much shame and self-loathing. Some who are quite vocal in the pro-choice movement may actually be reacting to their own pain regarding their abortion. It’s as though they are trying to convince themselves that their choice was indeed a good choice.

There are several possibilities for those who have had an abortion to experience healing, forgiveness and hope. The Archdiocese of Louisville offers Project Rachel, a confidential, one-to-one ministry, whereby the individual meets with someone who will walk with her through some steps toward healing, including the sacrament of reconciliation for Catholics.

The archdiocese also can refer women to neighboring dioceses in Kentucky for a weekend retreat experience, Rachel’s Vineyard. The Little Way Pregnancy Resource Center recently started offering a Scripture study, “Forgiven and Set Free,” which is a 10-week, small group process for women. Although the program is not specifically Catholic, the group will be facilitated by Catholic women who have been trained and volunteer at the center. Together, these ministries become part of a “menu” of healing ministries available to those who have experienced abortion.

One unspoken tragedy of abortion is that in many ways, the one who has experienced an abortion “loses” her own life, as well, to feelings of shame and guilt, failing to allow herself to grieve the loss of her child and move to a place of hope. The first step on the road to healing is realizing the need for healing.

As seen through the actions of Pope Francis, the church stands ready to extend the Lord’s unending love and mercy to those who seek it.

To speak to someone confidentially about an abortion and to discern a healing option, call 471-2155 or email projectrachel@archlou.org.

Michelle Herberger,
Associate Director
of the Family Ministries Office
Archdiocese of Louisville

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