By Bishop Gerald R. Barnes
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision more than 40 years ago the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the most vocal and dogged opponents of legalized abortion in the national consciousness. Speaking out and lobbying against this tragic taking of human life, which has claimed an estimated 50 million people since abortion was legalized, has become a passionate ministry for many.
They have answered the call to publicly declare the Catholic belief in the inherent dignity of all human life, within the context of protecting the unborn. This has meant protesting in front of abortion facilities, marching in solidarity by the thousands and confronting elected officials who continue to support abortion.
While the media narrative has focused on this very public dimension of Pro Life ministry, much less has been reported about the important work of the Church in post abortion healing. That is to say, we do not simply condemn the sin of abortion, we seek to bring healing to those who have been wounded by it through Reconciliation in Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:7) gives us the model for the compassion and forgiveness of this ministry.
It may not fit the image of a strident culture warrior that is often portrayed of us, but when an abortion has occurred, our ministry to the repentant mother and all who are directly affected is just as important.
Pope Francis has called our attention to this ministry as part of the coming Year of Mercy, declaring that priests worldwide will be granted faculties to absolve the sin of abortion during the Jubilee Year. While this faculty was granted to priests in the United States years ago, it is normally reserved for bishops only. There is a message and meaning in the Holy Father’s action.
He is calling us in this Year of Mercy to reach out to those who may feel forgotten, judged and cut off from the Church. And in taking the specific action to allow priests to absolve the sin of abortion Pope Francis is pointing us to the presence of God’s mercy and forgiveness for those seek Him in the aftermath of grave sin.
Much of this work is done in our Diocese through Rachel’s Hope and Healing ministry which offers Rachel’s Vineyard post abortion healing retreats, coordinated by the Office of Pro Life Catholic Ministries. These retreats, offered quarterly in our diocese, are meant to help women and men who have been wounded by abortion to confront the crippling emotions associated with their past decision, to receive the love and compassion of the Church without judgement, and thereby begin a journey of healing. I offer my gratitude to all those who help to carry out this ministry of mercy in our Diocese.
It is my hope that in writing about this ministry and promoting it in our Diocese during the Year of Mercy, many who have been hurt by abortion will come forward to receive healing and Reconciliation in our Catholic faith. This, too, is Pro Life.
For more information about Rachel’s Hope and Healing please call (909) 475-5353.