Project Rachel is working to expand its ministry into Romania and Ukraine, where women report having had between 13 and 30 abortions. Speaking with CNA in Rome, Vicki Thorn, Executive Director of Project Rachel, described how the priestly vocation is fundamental to discovering and offering new opportunities for post-abortion healing.
Vicki Thorn is a veteran in the field of post-abortion healing, having been involved in the ministry for 25 years. Recently she has been traveling to Europe to address the issue of abortion in eastern European nations, especially Romania and the Ukraine.
"Eastern Europe has had huge numbers of abortions, in part because of communism, (but it's due to) all kinds of things. Doctors and priests see that this is a big issue because people are coming forward and they're talking. The doctors are saying that there are women with 13 to 30 abortions," she told CNA.
"I don't even know what you do with that. I've done this for 25 years, and I'm like, whew, I don't even know how we come at this question."
"In Russia the average woman according to their statistics has had nine abortions, but my own experience of talking to the physicians in Romania and Ukraine is that we're talking 13 to 30."
Thorn said that there was a doctor in Romania who told her of a woman that had solicited 70 abortions. "Do you think that's possible?" the doctor had asked Thorn.
"Maybe what she's saying is the '70 times 7' in the Bible," she replied to him, "perhaps she was saying, 'I've had so many abortions, you wouldn't believe it.'"
"So, this is a psychological issue. We're looking at countries with huge depression factors in women, alcoholism, fertility questions follow this, and it's the priests who see this in the beginning.
"When the bishops called for a post abortion healing ministry in the States, right after abortion was legalized, in their first pastoral plan, it was because they were confessors and they knew the problem. Nobody else knew it, it took me seven years to find experts, but the bishops knew because they were priests who had heard confessions."
Thorn also recounted that she first discovered the gravity of the situation in Romania when she was giving a conference on post-abortion healing through Project Rachel last year in Rome. There was a Greek Orthodox bishop in the assembly who stood up and exclaimed, "We need this!"
According to Thorn, the Greek Orthodox bishop said that at the time his Church's method of bringing about healing was to give a penance of seven years without the Eucharist.
"We have to tell people in other countries that there is a means of doing this," said Thorn.
Project Rachel is described on its website as "a network of professional counselors and priests, all trained to provide one-on-one spiritual and psychological care for those who are suffering because of an abortion."
Thorn explained to CNA that the outreach goes beyond what you'd imagine. "Just last night one of the priests here, when he heard what I did, said, 'Oh, that's some of the most moving ministry I've ever done.'”
"So, this awareness of the woman who believes she's committed the unforgivable sin; that when you reject the creation, you've rejected the creator, then to be forgiven and to be set free... that's what priests are called to do.
"This is a ministry not only for women and for men ... but also for priests. It affirms who they are, it is the essence of their call to be priests.”
When asked if the ministry has a place only within the Catholic Church, Thorn responded, "When I was in Romania, I was with the Orthodox, with the Greek Catholics and the Roman Catholics.
"Any place there's a sacramental model, Project Rachel fits,"she said.
The next step in the process of branching out to other Eastern European nations, Thorn told CNA, would be a Project Rachel seminar including leaders from these nations, "probably in Poland, and probably in the next year."
The idea is to bring leaders to the seminar from a number of Eastern bloc countries and send them home well informed. "Then we'll take it from there," said Thorn.
Part of the education would be taken care of through the manual on post-abortion healing (of which Thorn was the primary author), recently revised by the U.S. Bishops' Conference, to share knowledge with bishops' conferences abroad and lead them to offer the ministry in their areas. "If that happens, they can translate it top-down to the priests, and then if we get religious women involved we have the means to provide care wherever."
"If we could get communities of religious to take this as a charism... that will then allow Eastern Europe and Latin America to move very quickly."
Thorn told CNA that she's also seeing, "a lot of interest in mental health professionals,” but that “really the Church is the ideal place to do this. We have the means.”
"When I started doing Project Rachel, it was clear to me. We have clergy, we have mental health professionals, we have all these people within the Church that can provide care in this network and it's a holistic response.
"We have the opportunity and the means to do this any place in the world," she added.
Vicki Thorn has just released a book on the introduction of a ministry for post-abortion syndrome within the Church, called, “Project Rachel: The Face of Compassion.” The book is currently available in Italian from the Vatican Press, and she hopes to have an English version out soon.