[I was asked to contribute to an online forum about what the Church has to say to those involved in abortion. This is an expansion of my contribution]
When Pope Francis announced, as part of the preparation for the Jubilee of Mercy, that he was granting all priests around the world the faculty of forgiving the sin of abortion through the Sacrament of Confession, many people were confused. Some of the questions included, “Don’t priests already have that authority?” “DOes this mean that women who previously confessed, weren’t really absolved?” The news coverage, as usual, was embarassingly amateurish, and awful.
Fortunately, some sane voices offered explanations. Cardinal Dolan made clear that the priests of the Archdiocese of New York (like those in most, if not all dioceses of the United States) have long had this authority, and that people involved in abortion should rest assured that the mercy of God was always available to them.
One thing that I found interesting in all the discussion, was that people were speaking as if the only people involved in abortions were the mothers in crisis who sought them out. But there’s another group of people involved as well — abortionists, and the people who work in abortion clinics.
Over the past few months, we have seen the undercover videos that have exposed Planned Parenthood’s ghoulish trafficking in the body parts of aborted babies. We are naturally appalled, and angry. Our first impulse is to condemn, not just the ideologies that led them to act this way, but also the persons themselves.
This is where the Church — and through her, Jesus himself — enters the conversation.
Pope Francis’ has consistently stressed several basic Gospel messages — the call to encounter and accompany people, and the notion that realities are more important than ideas.
Too often we think of abortion situations through a particular frame — whether it’s the ideology of “reproductive choice” or pro-life principles — that keeps us on the level of ideas and can even de-humanize those we are dealing with. But we are not dealing with abstractions, but with people — not just the woman in crisis who entered that clinic and her vulnerable unborn child, but the clinic workers as well. And we must encounter them all as real human beings , including those who are performing abortions.
From this perspective, the Church can invite clinic workers and abortions to embrace what they really need deep down — a softening of their hearts through the mercy and love of God. They can be led, perhaps by our compassion and prayer, to a conversion of heart so they can encounter the women and unborn children who come to their clinics as people, and not as clients or as raw biological materials. If God’s grace can can bring them to that point, we can then accompany them on their path, offering prayer, love and practical help. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson’s ministry, And Then There Were None, is a very good example of this.
The message of the Church to those involved in performing abortion is the simple message of Jesus himself — an offer of mercy and an invitation to conversion: “You don’t have to be that way. There is another path, one that leads to happiness and peace. The message of mercy and a new life is for you too. We’re all on that same path. Come walk with us.”