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“Ask a Priest: Should We Shame a Woman Who’s Had Abortions?”
Q: Should Catholics shame a women for having abortions early in her life and is now scared and ashamed and remorseful? I have had a friend who confided in me about two abortions she had years ago. She only told me and explained to me why she is always so down and distant from people but felt she could trust me. Because of my upbringing in very strict, judgmental Catholic family I feel I should distance myself from her. But my own version of God is to not abandon people in need. I care deeply for this person. She even hopes one day we can be in a relationship, but my mind will never let me go there, and I think it’s more because of worry about how my family will feel. I feel it’s not a Christian way to treat people by not forgiving and showing compassion. But maybe I’m wrong as a devout Catholic myself — maybe I need to cut this person from my life? Looking for some guidance. – T.G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s not the role of Catholics to shame a woman in this situation but rather to encourage her on a path of healing.
Many women suffer deep psychological wounds because of their abortions. Those who think they cannot obtain God’s mercy can end up in a psychological and emotional tailspin.
This woman needs healing both at the spiritual and the psychological levels.
That she has been so secretive about her past indicates that she has a lot of regret for what happened. She recognizes that the abortions were wrong. If she has confided her past to you, that means she trusts you and might be open to any advice you could offer.
This would be the moment to encourage her to go to confession and to seek out counseling, such as what could be offered at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae articulates a pastoral approach toward post-abortive women:
“I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life” (No. 99).
You might be the instrument through which your friend will learn of God’s mercy and find a source of hope.
Catholics more than anyone are called to be witnesses of God’s mercy. We ourselves encounter that mercy every time we take advantage of the sacrament of confession. It is an imminently Christian thing to reach out to a fallen soul and help her to reconcile with God.
It’s one thing to hate sin; it’s quite another to be judgmental and to write off sinners. “Stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Jesus died for all of us. We all need his redemption. It would give him great joy if your friend could turn to him for mercy. He wants to bring healing to her heart.
And with God’s grace she might someday be reunited with her babies.
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