“Ask a Priest: How Can I Help My Sister Who Had an Abortion?”

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Q: I have a strong desire to invite my sister to return to the Church and the sacraments. I see her searching for community and belonging! However, she had an abortion many years ago and feels excommunicated from the Church. I know she is still burdened with this mortal sin. My first thought is to tell her to go to confession, but I’m not sure it’s that simple! If I invite her to return, what Church guidelines can I use? I know of a strong faith community as well as a seminary in her town. I sense that she could find spiritual direction, but again I’m not sure what encouragement to give her. – T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though the Holy Spirit is already working in your sister’s heart. Her search for community and belonging is what the Church is about.

Despite the tragedy of the abortion, she remains a beloved daughter of the Church. She just needs to be encouraged to approach the sacrament of confession, as you mention. The priest isn’t going to reject her. Rather, he will be happy to be a minister of God’s mercy.

Your sister could benefit from healing at various levels. It might help her a lot to do a retreat with Rachel’s Vineyard. There might be one in her area. Or perhaps her own diocese offers retreats for post-abortion women.

In the meantime, you could perhaps invite your sister to at least accompany you when you go to church. Just being in the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist might help her. And seeing the images of Mary can help a soul, too. Our Lady can be the gentle face of the Church, so to speak.

There are lots of resources to help prepare a person for confession. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, for instance, has a downloadable guide (scroll down to see it). You could also recommend our retreat guide on this sacrament, and maybe even watch it together with your sister: “From Sorrow to Joy.”

Little by little, with your encouragement, the grace of the sacrament of confession, and lots of prayer, she could make progress. Spiritual direction could help, too, but it might be better for her to seek that out on her own. There is a time and place for everything.

Above all, keep reaching out to your sister and let her know you love her and that the Church loves her. Your prayers for her peace and reconciliation will be priceless.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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