Olivia Gans Turner, Director, American Victims of Abortion
Pope Francis has once again made the news on an important issue that happens to be very close to my heart. I am grateful that the Pope’s newest comments open the door for me to share with a new audience what has been the driving force of my entire adult life since my own abortion in 1982: working with post-abortive women.
On Thursday, the Pope shocked some in the media by announcing that he was going to encourage a “new” missionary effort. “Missionaries of mercy” will be sent out all across the world as part of the Pope’s Jubilee, or Holy Year, of Mercy, which begins in December.
This particular effort will focus on extending a hand of compassion and forgiveness to those who have been involved in abortions, including the mothers, and fathers of the babies as well as those who participate, nurses, abortionists, and staff.
The news media was stunned by this proposal. The idea that the leader of the world’s Catholics would sound so understanding gave rise to comments from certain press sources that perhaps the Pope was signaling that he thought some abortions might be allowable.
Every account overlooked that this Pope has continually said that abortion is a “sin against God” and “horrific.” This is not a plan to make abortion easier but rather a way to repair the damage done to so many hearts because of the act itself.
The notion that the purpose of the Catholic Church on earth is to heal the brokenhearted, and teach the lesson of compassion seemed shocking to them. Yet the truth is that Bishops and priests and pastors have been sharing the mercy of God with hurting people after abortion for years.
The truly shocking thing is not the headlines which fundamentally misunderstand and misrepresented what Pope Francis was saying. It is that this outreach to hurting women is not news! The Catholic Church around the world, including here in America, has been at the forefront of helping to offer care and counseling, as well as forgiveness to women and others after an abortion on a large scale for many years now.
Programs like Project Rachel led the way to teach priests and lay people in dioceses across the United States about the critical need to help those who were suffering from post-abortion stress in communities and churches everywhere. The late John Cardinal O’Connor made the healing of broken hearts and lives a centerpiece of the work to be done, along with helping pregnant women, by the Sisters of Life, the order of nuns which he established in the 1990’s in New York City.
The efforts led by brave mothers and fathers of aborted children to speak out about their pain, supported by many pro-life groups, helped urge on the development of these programs.
Since the 1980s I have personally participated in over 40 different such training days in Catholic dioceses in the United States. The response from clergy was always wonderful. They often knew individuals in pain from abortion but had felt concerned about the best way to help. Several excellent books have been written specifically to help clergy handle this sensitive subject with individuals and their congregations, including those by Rev. Michael Mannion.
The greater pro-life movement has always understood that abortion left a great wound on the heart and in the life of those involved. Led by efforts at NRLC, other pro-life groups and the thousands of pro-life Mother Helping Centers in America the truth about Post-Abortion Syndrome has been openly discussed leading to even greater efforts to help individuals after abortion.
Similar programs and efforts have been launched since the 1990s in countries from Canada to New Zealand.
In all these places the Bishops have made it possible for all the priests under their responsibility to help mothers and others receive forgiveness and help. The Pope’s new “Missionaries of Mercy” will join their ranks.
Nor have these efforts been limited to the Catholic Church. Churches of many denominations have become places of healing and compassion for so many women and men who have to live with the pain caused by the abortions they had. So too, many who were once involved in the business of abortion are finding the door open in many churches that they may have thought would not understand what they had done or why.
I do believe that the Pope’s comments point to a need to broaden this conversation. Abortions do happen everywhere. The hurt it causes is universally the same pain of grief over the death of a precious child.
Families all over the world have been damaged by the deaths of these little ones. Abortions do need to be discussed, not (as pro-abortionists desire) to justify even celebrate the taking of innocent unborn life but to extend mercy to women.
Since 1986, it has been my honor to work as the director of American Victims of Abortion at NRLC, speaking in 17 countries as well as all 50 U.S. states. In many of those places I was the first woman that we know of who spoke frankly about how much the abortion I had hurt and changed my life.
Over and over again I heard the same refrain from women and men who whispered to me that they always felt that they weren’t allowed to tell anyone about how much they hurt because of the abortion experience they’d had. They felt no one would listen or care.
The Pope is showing the world that the Church is willing to listen and that it cares. This is nothing new, of course, but we are grateful that a wider audience will know of pro-lifers’ compassion for hurting women.
NRLC and the entire pro-life movement has done so much to expose the truth behind the ugly secrets of the abortion industry. It will be good to see this conversation expand to reach even more of those who suffer alone because of the lies spread by the abortion industry for all these years.
It should surprise no one that the mainstream media misinterprets this gesture from Rome. It is not an effort to make abortion easier or acceptable, but rather to recognize that abortion destroys lives and hurts everyone associated with that child’s death.
For many of us, it is their Church which is the path to healing and hope for a future that is not trapped by the dreadful decisions we have made.
It’s about mercy, people!