Sometimes the media doesn’t quite get it right. When Pope Francis recently wrote on the topic of women who have had abortions, recent headlines suggested that the Catholic Church’s outreach to those suffering after abortion is a new phenomenon. But nothing could be further from the truth. From Jesus himself to our current pontiff, the Church has a long history of emphasizing forgiveness and healing for all who repent and seek help.
Throughout salvation history, God has welcomed those who repent from wrongdoing with special joy. Jesus concludes the parable of the lost sheep by saying: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7). When Simon and other Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus allowed a “sinful woman” to bathe his feet with her tears while dining at Simon’s house, Jesus holds her up as an example of humility, gratitude and love: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love” (Lk 7:47). Not even once does Jesus reject a humble, contrite man or woman.
And because reconciliation and healing are at the heart of the Church’s mission, the Church has been on the forefront of post-abortion healing ministry for decades. Just after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, the Catholic bishops recognized that those involved in abortion would have special sacramental and pastoral needs. In the 1975 Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the blueprint for the Catholic Church’s pro-life efforts in our country, the body of U.S. Catholic bishops formally committed “the pastoral resources of the Church” to “the specific needs of…those who have had or have taken part in an abortion” (no. 6). In line with this commitment, U.S. bishops long ago affirmed the authority for priests in the U.S. that Pope Francis has now affirmed worldwide.
Over the years, the bishops have continued carrying out this commitment to forgiveness and healing by establishing and strengthening diocesan-based post-abortion healing ministries, most often called Project Rachel. This ministry gathers together the resources of the Church in the ongoing healing mission of Jesus. In dioceses and parishes throughout the country, Project Rachel helps provide opportunities for God’s mercy to transform the hearts of those wounded from abortion.
Echoing earlier, similar statements of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis gave confidence in God’s love and mercy to women who suffer from abortion, urging them to seek forgiveness and healing:
“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father” (Letter of Pope Francis to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Sept. 1, 2015).
During the Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis is calling special attention to Christ’s mercy and the mission of the Church to bring the Gospel of mercy to all people. Pope Francis continues to shine light on Christ’s coming for all since everyone is a sinner in need of mercy.
If someone you know suffers because of involvement with abortion, please encourage him or her to talk to a priest or contact the nearest Project Rachel Ministry by visiting the “Find Help” map at www.hopeafterabortion.com or www.esperanzaposaborto.com or calling (866) 3RACHEL . . . . And please pray that many will seek and receive the gift of God’s infinite mercy.
LIFE ISSUES FORUM by Mary McClusky is Assistant Director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit www.hopeafterabortion.com or www.esperanzaposaborto.com