Pope Francis’s recent call for mercy and forgiveness for women who have had an abortion has many people wondering at this seeming change of Catholic church policy.
But as someone who has personally experienced the lasting grief and regret of abortion and also found healing and hope through the church, I can assure you that Pope Francis is simply renewing the same message of mercy that the church has always offered: a message of repentance, confession of sins and restoration.
The new start that Catholics are blessed with each time we confess our sins is just the beginning of the divine mercy of Christ that flows from his church. But sin has consequences, and the consequence of abortion is the loss of your child.
When that truth becomes clear, the hidden grief and haunting regret of abortion can wreak havoc in a woman’s heart and soul. The day of that loss is often burned into the memory, while unrecognized trauma may lead to mental, emotional and physical problems.
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In my case, although I had been forgiven, the wound in my heart remained, so I was deeply moved when I read “The Gospel of Life” by Pope John Paul II and found a message that spoke directly to me:
“I 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 … painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was … terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope … 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 merciful Father you can with sure hope entrust your child. … As a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.” (§99)
To know that the church and the pope recognized the wounds of abortion and were reaching out to women who suffered silently meant so much to me. I hope that, in the same way, women who hear Pope Francis’s invitation will respond, and many who felt they could never confess the sin of abortion will overcome their fears and find grace, healing, and forgiveness.
A few years after reading the pope’s message, I learned about Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats, a Catholic and Interdenominational Christian post-abortion healing ministry. I attended a retreat and experienced profound healing and peace. These weekend retreats, available worldwide, provide a small group setting with others who grieve an abortion: a time to share our sorrow, encounter God’s mercy through scriptural exercises, and receive spiritual and psychological counsel.
Knowing the importance of overcoming the traumatic effects of abortion and wanting others to find the same healing as I had, I later volunteered with Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. Then in 2010, I developed The Healing Light Retreat, a day-long Catholic retreat based on the same principals. I encourage anyone who grieves an abortion to take time for a healing retreat.
Don’t be afraid to turn to Jesus and let him heal the wound in your heart.
For more information, please visit: www.rachelsvineyard.org and www.hlretreat.weebly.com
Nancy Murray is a Catholic catechist, retreat facilitator, blogger at www.CatholicEthicsblogspot.com and attends Christ the King church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email email@example.com.