Through the sacraments, countless men and women receive forgiveness, healing and strength to overcome their sins, wounds and weaknesses. In a ministry dedicated to restoring spiritual and emotional health, such supernatural assistance is a priceless gift.

Since its inception in 1993, Bethesda Healing Ministry (BethesdaHealing.org), based in Dublin, Ohio, has been dedicated to making this gift available to women and men seeking post-abortion healing.

Recognizing the increasing number of women struggling with the aftermath of past abortions, Dominican Father Carlton Jones, then pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Columbus, Ohio, hoped to establish a new post-abortion ministry. Two women responded to the idea, Judy Schlueter and Fran Kempf, who became the co-founders of Bethesda Healing Ministry.

Some come to Bethesda only weeks after making their disastrous decision. Others, like Theresa, show up years later.

“I kept my sin secret for almost 25 years,” she recalls. “I did not confess, I did not counsel with anyone, and I spent most of my adult life attempting to find a love and acceptance that, I realize now, I had thrown away when I stepped away from Christ. When I read in the local Catholic paper about a retreat that gave participants an opportunity for forgiveness from their sin of abortion, I knew I had to attend.”

Her decision to go on the retreat made a dramatic difference in her life. Through her involvement with the ministry she has come to truly know Jesus and to love the Church.

With the support and direction of Bishop Emeritus James Griffin, Bishop Frederick Campbell, and Bishop Thomas Olmsted, along with a number of priests — Jesuit Father William Lynn, Father Dean Mathewson, Father Bill Hahn, and Father Joe Klee among them — Bethesda Healing Ministry has established a strong Catholic identity, incorporating the sacraments into the program.

“Bethesda Healing Ministry recognizes the power of the sacraments to help a person to heal,” says Father Mathewson, one of three Bethesda chaplains. “The sacrament of reconciliation is at the heart of the ministry.”

Voices of Experience

As director of the ministry, Judy Schlueter upholds its distinctly Catholic identity. She describes their ongoing program of healing and support as being united with the sacramental priesthood. The ministry is also a pastoral formation site for seminarians at the Pontifical College Josephinum and a lay affiliate of the Sisters of Life. Yet the ministry activities are open to non-Catholic members as well.

Bethesda Healing Ministry holds bi-monthly meetings based on their manual, An Experience of Hope. The manual approaches healing according to Catholic Scriptural and sacramental spirituality. The ministry also holds days of reflection and retreats, but the primary focus is on the ongoing support of the regular meetings.

Bethesda offers a place where men and women who have experienced the tragedy of abortion can come together to share their sorrow, to seek healing together, and to grow as a community and personally in their relationship with Jesus,” says Bethesda’s chaplain, Father Hahn.

Essential to this ministry are the Bethesda Companions, men and women who have remained involved for an extended period, participating in ministry retreats and additional training. A pastoral leadership team prayerfully discerns their interest in becoming Companions. Once accepted, they fulfill a special role of support and encouragement to others, having walked a similar journey themselves.

Theresa is now one of the Bethesda Companions. “The ministry offers hope, love, acceptance, understanding, support and community for anyone who has been through an abortion experience,” she says. “Most ministry members are men and women who have been directly involved with an abortion.”

Even those members who have not been directly involved are compassionate and caring.

Bethesda is advised and supported by a board of committed Catholic men and women who share the mission and vision of Jesus the Good Shepherd,” says Schlueter, “who left the 99 to go after the one who was lost.”

Where God Waits

Of those who have now been “found,” some have felt called to publicly speak about their abortion experiences. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), those wounded by abortion can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life.

“Their testimonies are a powerful witness to an apathetic culture because people listen when someone bares their soul in such a way,” says Father Hahn.

The public voice of those who regret their abortions also exposes the false claim that abortion brings women freedom. On the contrary, the experience of post-abortion syndrome (a type of post-traumatic-stress disorder), with its feelings of shame, guilt, anger, grief, anxiety and depression, is anything but liberating.

“Our culture denies the devastating effects of abortion,” says Father Mathewson. “The very existence of the ministry flies in the face of that lie.”

Bethesda’s ministry brings attention to the fact that men suffer from the pain of abortion as well.

“Men in the ministry would say that they had no idea of the intensity and duration of the pain caused by that decision to the mothers of their children or themselves,” says Schlueter.

“Perhaps one of the lovelier moments occurred at a Bethesda session a few years ago,” she recalls. “One of the women looked at a man present and said, ‘On behalf of the woman who aborted your baby, I am so sorry.’ And the man, rather teary-eyed, replied, ‘On behalf of the man who was not there to protect and care for you, I ask your forgiveness.’ It was a powerful moment.”

Those who come to meetings do not focus solely on their own healing. They also pray for others wounded by abortion.

“We pray at each meeting for the thousands of men and women we know are in our community who have had abortions,” says Theresa. “We will pray that this article touches some of them and that they will have the courage to contact us. We know God is waiting for them, and so are we.”

Gina Giambrone writes from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.