Help has long been available for women suffering the after-effects of abortion. While men are welcome to participate in post-abortion healing programs, there hasn’t been similar assistance offered specifically for men. Until now.
Over the past year, the Franciscan Friars of Renewal have partnered with Lumina: Hope and Healing After Abortion to offer their Entering Canaan Day of Prayer and Healing retreats for men suffering the emotional and spiritual fallout that so often come to those who’ve been complicit in an abortion.
Men who have attended the daylong retreat say that help for men is long overdue.
“There is a need for healing among men that is virtually [unmet],” says James, an attorney from Long Island, N.Y., who participated in a day of healing recently. “There is going to be a tremendous growth in the number of men coming to them. Men are supposed to be the protectors of their families. This is one area where men have really fallen short, and most men don’t want to admit that.”
Renewal Franciscan Father Mariusz Koch, New York archdiocesan priest Father George Stewart and Theresa Bonopartis, Lumina’s director, had participated in days of healing for women offered by the Sisters of Life, a religious community founded by the late Cardinal John O’Connor. Men sometimes attended. It was at Father Koch’s suggestion that they decided to try offering a similar day specifically for men.
To date, they have offered four retreats. At the end of January, they hosted their first men’s weekend retreat at the Sisters of Life Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat House in Stamford, Conn. Typically, Father Koch and Father Stewart lead the Day of Healing.
After introductions and the showing of a video that features interviews with post-abortive men and women, there is small group sharing and presentations.
“We use the story of David, who gives into his lust. He later becomes aware of what he has done and desires to be reconciled with God and is forgiven,” explains Father Koch. “There is a good parallel between abortion and the repercussions of David’s decision.”
The sacrament of reconciliation is made available at the event, followed by a holy hour and a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. The day ends with Mass and Benediction. Men are encouraged to write the name of their aborted child or children in a book. That book remains in the Franciscans’ Newark, N.J., friary chapel where the friars and others can pray before it.
Just for Men
The number of attendees has ranged from as few as three to as many as 11.
“The suffering that men carry is so profound,” said Father Koch. “Some men share the guilt of their action — that they forced someone. Some share their anger — that they tried to stop it but couldn’t. Some share their shame. Some of them drove the girl there and talk about looking in her eyes and knowing it wasn’t the right thing and are haunted by that.
“One man said he would frequently have a nightmare where he would wake up in a cold sweat dreaming that the police were pounding on the door to arrest him,” says Father Koch. “Deep in his heart, he knew he had murdered someone, but only in his dream did he realize that.”
Participants believe that the men-only format encourages men to share their thoughts and feelings.
“They are hesitant to share,” says Father Koch. “Men told us that by doing a day just for men we would get more men to come. Men let down their guard when they are just with men.”
Thomas, from Stony Point, N.Y., reluctantly supported his girlfriend’s abortion years ago while in college. He described a day of healing he attended recently as a unique opportunity.
“It’s different because it’s men,” says Thomas. “I think you feel more comfortable. It gives you the opportunity to speak about something that you haven’t spoken about in years and to experience the Lord’s mercy.”
“We’ve had men who [are suffering from] abortions years before in college and no one knows they did this,” Bonopartis points out. “Then they get married and have other children, and the impact of what they have done hits them.”
James facilitated his girlfriend’s abortion 17 years ago.
“When I was in law school, I was the moving force behind my girlfriend having an abortion,” he says. “I got the telephone number and suggested she make the appointment. I took her there and paid for it.
“Satan had his claws in me on this issue for many years,” he adds. “I was touched by Christ and have started dealing with this.”
James has attended two retreats and plans to continue to participate.
“I see my participation as a source of support for the other guys who go,” says James.
While the retreats have helped him “tremendously,” they can’t remove the ever-present pain.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as closure — just grace,” says James. “God eases the pain.”
Bonopartis hopes that the program will grow to meet the needs of the millions of men who have been part of the decision to abort their children.
“The response has been unbelievable,” she says. “It’s about time men had something.”
Tim Drake is based
in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Entering Canaan Days of Prayer and Healing