October 05, 2010

True compassion can face the brokenness of abortion

By Fr. Mike Shields *

By Fr. Mike Shields *

When I was first ordained to the priesthood, a young woman came to me. She had an abortion earlier in life and suffered terrible guilt when she later gave birth to her first live child. As a Catholic, she had confessed her sin but still suffered from deep guilt.

I wanted to be compassionate and ease her guilt. I explained that she needed to just receive the forgiveness of God and she would be OK. She left me after a couple of sessions and I felt I had done my work.

Some time after this, I received a small book in the mail. It was the story of a woman’s pain after her abortion and how she finally found help. I was mentioned in this book as the priest who didn’t understand how deep her pain was and therefore could not help her.

She found help elsewhere and was working in a pro-life outreach, helping women like herself recover after their abortion. This event deeply marked my conscience and caused me to never again take abortion lightly or think that it does not leave real and long-lasting effects.

I know abortion harms women and leaves deep scars. I understand better now the deep pain that can be hidden in the heart of a woman — pain that can surface much later in life.

Living in Russia, I see this pain slowly coming forth from the lives of women in my own parish. We now speak more openly about the forbidden topic. Some say it is not compassionate to openly speak about abortion or condemn it because it will produce greater guilt in women. My reaction is just opposite. True compassion faces the broken reality of abortion, while remaining in solidarity with the unborn child and the woman who suffers.

Rachael’s Vineyard is a program that offers retreats for women who have suffered from abortions and who desire peace and freedom from the effects of their decision.

We offer these retreats and see healing taking place. I see great courage in women who have started to speak out, and as one movement is named, are “silent no more.” I pray for such a movement in Russia.

Of all the life issues, abortion may be the single most divisive of our time, but we can’t remain silent and simply wish the problem would go away. To believe this is a failure to understand the depth of conviction of both sides.

Can there be dialogue between people who hold opposite convictions about abortion? Some say hope for dialogue between these two camps is naïve and just ends in shouting slogans at each other. The alternative, however, is to simply hope things won’t get worse.

The truly pro-life person opposes violence against anyone — mothers, children and doctors who perform abortions. We must work to show why the pro-life position is the most logical and compassionate position for mother and child and ultimately best for our society.

We must be in solidarity with mother and child and uphold the truth that sets all people free to see the sacredness of every life, even the smallest most defenseless life that is still being formed in the womb.

No slogans, just the truth. May it set us free to ask forgiveness, repent and heal.

Printed with permission from the Catholicanchor.org.

Fr. Shields is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia. The church is a mission of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.


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