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To ease abortion’s pain, priests urged to listen deeply, touch gently

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Easter-won

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September 29th, 2010
By Sam Lucero

GREEN BAY, Wis. (CNS) – The role priests play in counseling people touched by abortion is critical, yet they often do not know what to say or do, Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken said at a workshop for priests to help them learn about post-abortion healing.

He recalled an event that put the abortion topic in a new and disquieting light.

At a recent diocesan youth retreat, a 15-year-old girl was found crying before a crucifix. “One of the youth ministers went up to her and said, ‘Can I help you?’ and what came out was that this 15-year-old girl has already had three abortions,” said Bishop Ricken.

“So brothers, this is getting to be a very serious societal problem among Catholics,” he said. “I would say we are (needed) now more than we’ve ever been as far as our catechesis, our pastoral preaching and reaching out because there are so many broken families.”

He made the comments in an opening talk at the recent in-service session, sponsored by the diocesan Respect Life Office. The event focused on Project Rachel, a post-abortion ministry founded in Milwaukee in 1984.

Vicki Thorn, Project Rachel founder and executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, showed the priests how to recognize post-abortion trauma and help women deal with their grief.

“I don’t know about you, but when I’ve heard confessions and it involves abortion,” Bishop Ricken told the priests, “sometimes I feel helpless, not knowing what to do, what to say.”

Thorn told the priests that “from the beginning priests were at the core of this ministry. What you do, what you say, your presence is so important to the walking wounded that you encounter – and they are everywhere.”

She said that while some 50 million abortions take place each year in the United States, it is hard to know how many people have been affected.

“Abortion didn’t start with Roe v. Wade,” Thorn said. “It’s been forever a human problem. So we need to know there are old women in our congregations and in our nursing homes who have had abortions.”

She offered the priests practical advice:

“If you get a call from the nursing home or the hospital that Mrs. So-and-So should have died yesterday but she’s so agitated, get your stole and get to the hospital and say to her there’s nothing that God can’t forgive. And then name a couple of the favorite sins of your parish and put abortion in there. You’ll see her eyes fill with tears.”

Older women did not have counseling after abortions. “They went to confession many times,” Thorn said, “but in death there’s a series of questions they need answered and you can be the person” to answer them.

Thorn talked about abortion’s impact on women’s health, including an increased cancer risk.

She stresses that an abortion is not a routine medical procedure. “Because you’re forever carrying this biological memory in your body,” she said. “Furthermore, you started a pregnancy and you didn’t finish it. That has implications.

Thorn cited research by a cancer specialist in Seattle who discovered that girls under 18 who have abortions, and who have a history of breast cancer in their immediate families, increased their risk of breast cancer by 100 percent.

Thorn told the priests that she understood the challenges they face talking about abortion.

“I know that when it comes to pro-life stuff, you can’t do anything right,” she said. “Because whatever you say, someone’s going to be unhappy with you. It’s either too much or not enough.”

She called abortion a “heart debate (because) people are so impassioned.”

Don’t argue with an angry parishioner, Thorn advised. “Nobody’s ever been argued into the pro-life movement,” she said. “Simply say to them, ‘Why don’t you share with me why you feel so strongly about this. I’d like to understand.’

“Shut up and just let them talk,” she continued. “When they are done, thank them. If you can, lay your hand on their arm. Gentlemen, 20 seconds of touch is powerful healing in people. It sets off that chemistry of connection.”


From October 1, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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