Being Pro Life: Reaching out to those who have had an abortion
I remember walking into the church and I was shaking. I went into the confessional and I sat behind the screen, and I think that the only thing I said was that I had an abortion. The priest told me that I had done the unforgivable, and I left the confessional crying. And I sat in the pew, looking at the crucifix, and just cried.
This is the description Elizabeth gave of her attempt to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the church after having an abortion. And this wasn’t her only experience. She says that she went to several (with a strong emphasis on the word “several”) different churches, but they all told her essentially the same thing. She could not receive absolution.
She said, “[I] already feel terrible about [my]self for the way these men have treated me, and then it is reconfirmed in a place where [I] feel safe.” She felt alone and ashamed, and became self-destructive.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. After being away from the church for five years, her sister convinced her to attend a retreat and talk to a caring priest by the name of Father Jim Willig. He helped her imagine Jesus holding her baby, and felt true forgiveness for the first time. She was referred to Project Rachel, a Catholic healing ministry for post-abortive women, and attended the next retreat. Through that ministry she found several priests who were supportive of her journey back to forgiveness and healing with the church, and finally received the sacrament of reconciliation.
Project Rachel is the official post-abortive healing ministry recognized by the USCCB, operating in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 1994. The ministry offers weekend retreats, days of reflection, weekly support groups, a listening ear from other post-abortive women, and referrals to priests who have attended a Project Rachel training. Project Rachel has since been integrated into the training of seminarians as well, so what happened to Elizabeth should hopefully not happen here today.
If you want to learn more about the ministry, please go to www.catholiccincinnati.org/project-rachel or call the local number at (513) 784-0531. There you can learn the dates of upcoming retreats or days of reflection. If you want to support the ministry, find the website tab that says “Donate,” and offer a gift directly online or send a check to this local ministry. The women of Project Rachel are volunteers, so your donation would go directly to helping women afford the cost of a retreat, or to pay for brochures, banners and other means of outreach.
For those who are not aware of anyone affected by abortion, Elizabeth reminds us that we never know who we are sitting next to, who may be silently suffering, unwilling to share his or her story. So it is important that, whenever you speak about abortion, couch it in terms of forgiveness. Rather than, “I can’t believe anyone would do something like that,” you could say, “I hope that if I ever hear about anyone who has had an abortion, I can be a listening ear to help them find healing.” Also, make sure your parish takes advantage of brochures, flyers and bulletin announcements available on the website to help people learn about the ministry. Project Rachel volunteers can also speak at your parish or high school.
For those who have been affected by abortion, Elizabeth encourages them to “start the healing journey by just sharing with someone you trust”. You can find that listening ear through Project Rachel, just a phone call away.
This is not the whole story. Please watch the interview below.
This is the fourth topic of a 12-month series, focusing on a different aspect of Respect Life work each month.