A message of healing and compassion should always be at the center of the abortion debate and is the basis of Church teaching on the issue, according to the founder of a post-abortion apostolate.
“We always need to speak the healing message,” because “this question of God’s mercy and love, it really is the message of the Church,” Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, told CNA Aug 7.
Thorn's comments came the day after Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley delivered an address at the Knights of Columbus supreme convention in which he said Pope Francis “speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church's teaching on abortion.”
Some news outlets cast those comments as saying that Pope Francis “prefers to talk love, not abortion,” as though the Archbishop of Boston had set up a dichotomy between the two.
But in his San Antonio address, Cardinal O'Malley united the love and mercy shown to women who have had abortions with the truth of abortion's intrinsic immorality. “Mercy without truth would be consolation without honesty,” he reflected.
He said that Thorn's apostolate, Project Rachel, is “just that kind of a combination of mercy and truth that the Church's pro-life efforts need to be about.”
Thorn indicated that Pope Francis refraining from often mentioning abortion does not mean he prefers talking about love to abortion – saying she is “not concerned” that the Pope has said little directly about abortion since his election as Bishop of Rome.
“We’d like him to say all things to all people right away, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said, adding that many people think, “he’s coming in on his white horse and that he’s going to change everything tomorrow, but that isn’t feasible.”
She emphasized that it didn’t happen that way with either Blessed John Paul II or Benedict XVI, saying that instead it was “step by step.”
Thorn quoted Pope Francis while he was yet the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, saying, “if we want maintain a solid and enviable basis for human rights we absolutely must recognize that human life must always be defended from the very moment of conception.”
She went on to speak about how the Church’s teaching on abortion is a way of loving women, saying, “the Church loves the woman because we have spoken the truth of the aftermath of abortion from the beginning.”
Emphasizing the Church’s compassionate approach to the issue, she recalled that in the U.S. bishops' first pastoral plan for pro-life activities in 1975, they had called for “a ministry of healing for women.”
Although the topic of abortion was not widely spoken about at that time, Thorn said the bishops knew about the need for a healing apostolate because they “had heard confessions, and they had heard pain in a woman’s heart.”
“It’s a hard issue,” she said, and “it can take many years” before women who have had abortions are ready to process their experience, and that they will often seek to justify the act.
The thing to remember, Thorn said, is that “the woman who’s had an abortion is always a mother who has lost a child in a traumatic and un-natural fashion,” and that “the Church is there to walk with women and men” who are suffering from abortion's aftermath.
Reiterating the importance of compassion for women suffering the effects of an abortion, Thorn lamented that “sometimes people get so upset about abortion – they’re so angry – that they really believe that God shouldn’t be offering forgiveness.”
Sharing from her own experience, she said that “when women and men are healed, they always become pro-life, always,” stressing that men also need to go through a process of healing after an abortion.
“It’s one heart at a time. That’s how Jesus dealt with people when he was dealing with the wounded women in scripture: it was one at a time.”
To those who might complain that Pope Francis has not talked enough about abortion, Thorn responded that he “hasn’t been Pope long enough for us to know what he’s going to say,” but that “when the time is right, this is going to be spoken about.”