A rapid increase in interest in post-abortion reconciliation and healing is being reported by those ministering in the field.
To find out more about this special ministry, and the reasons behind its growing worldwide demand, Register correspondent Edward Pentin spoke with Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, an organization that has been “restoring hope to abortion’s wounded through God’s mercy” for almost 25 years.
This spring, Thorn took part in a conference held in Rome and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Its aim: to improve the Church’s ability to help people suffering the effects of abortion and divorce.
Can you tell us about the Church’s “sacramental response” to those affected by abortion?
Project Rachel, which began in the United States in 1984, is exactly this sacramental response. It’s a holistic approach that helps women and men who have been touched by abortion, along with their family members and friends, to resolve that loss through the sacrament of confession, through the compassionate support of people who understand the wound.
So we’re trying to make people aware of how to put this sort of ministry together, using all the resources we already have in the Church, using what we have with a new awareness of the wound of abortion.
If we don’t help people who have been touched by abortion to heal, we will never be able to build the culture of life because they are the cornerstones. The lived experience of their abortion loss cannot be denied by anybody, and when we help them to resolve this spiritually through the Lord’s help, we really are putting in place the cornerstones of the culture of life.
People who are healed of abortion don’t have abortions again, they parent differently, they grow more in their spiritual life, they’re very serious about their spiritual life.
Many of them will say, “You know, I would never have another abortion, but the gift of that experience is that I know God and Jesus in a very personal way. Without that experience I may not know God’s compassionate mercy in the same way.”
What does Project Rachel offer in terms of practical help?
The practical response to the woman who has had an abortion is really to give her an opportunity to tell her story to someone.
She has to obviously come seeking help; we don’t go seeking her. When she’s ready, she comes and we listen to her story. We then provide her with referrals for care, whether she wants to begin with a priest or whether she wants to begin with someone else, a counselor.
It’s really her decision. Some women will have already gone to confession but feel that there were things that weren’t resolved.
The wound of abortion is twofold: It is the wound of a mother who lost a child in a traumatic and unnatural fashion, and it’s a spiritual wound. So we provide care for both of those.
Then, the person who would be ministering to her, if it’s her confessor, would hear her confession and then explain to her that there is more to the process, both the spiritual wound and the human wound, and help her to find other people to journey with her.
It’s about helping her to come to resolution, grieving for her child, recognizing the uniqueness of this child in the communion of saints, coming to believe that God could forgive her. She believes this is the unforgivable sin so there isn’t any chance.
[So we try to] help her to tell her story, to forgive the other people involved and, perhaps the most difficult step, to forgive herself. That’s the process of healing that’s involved.
What more could the Church be doing in this area?
I think the Church is beginning to make inroads. Project Rachel has been in existence since 1984 in the United States. Almost every diocese has a ministry of some kind.
And not to forget the fathers — the fathers are the other hidden victim in all of this. Sometimes they’re responsible for it, sometimes they didn’t feel they could say anything, sometimes they don’t know, but they, too, grieve very deeply and we don’t even put them into the equation.
“It’s a woman’s decision, you know,” is what the popular, secular culture says. The child came into existence because of two people. We can’t forget the fathers, as well.
I believe the Church is going to do more and the awareness is growing. With awareness growing, the ministry will expand.
You say you’ve recently seen much growth of interest in this ministry. How extensive has this growth been?
Oh, it’s in every corner of the world. For the last 18 months, I have been consistently getting e-mails, every week, from another corner of the world.
My own travels have taken me into Eastern Europe several times, into China, Hong Kong. I just received an e-mail from Singapore, and there’s a great deal of interest in English-speaking Africa. So suddenly everyone seems to be aware that the fallout from abortion is long-term and very pervasive. There’s this awareness that they need to know how to do it.
When Project Rachel began in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where I began it, it was the press that propelled it. The next day it was the lead story in our paper and we heard from people around the country and other countries because there was so much press coverage.
People began calling and asking, “How do we do this? We need it. We just don’t know how to do it.” So this is the blueprint for how we can respond as Church and not be taxed by it.
It’s what we do well already. It’s simply raising awareness that there is a group of people who need our care and our love.
I think this is an important piece of our vision as Church to speak to, and be willing to take on, this hard social issue that is just everywhere in the world, and to know that we have answers for people.
Really, God has answers. We’re just those who provide the loving care and compassionate face of Jesus with skin on, to help them heal through the sacraments, through the care of others.
Edward Pentin is based in Rome.