Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Priests listen to a presentation at a workshop on post-abortion healing on Sept. 17 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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Priests gain insights on post-abortion healing and reconciliation
September 26th, 2016
By Christina Gray

About a dozen priests from around the Archdiocese of San Francisco learned about the breadth of abortion’s destructiveness and how they can better be an instrument of Christ’s healing and peace during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The Sept. 17 training at St. Mary’s Cathedral, coordinated by the archdiocesan Respect Life Program, held separate trainings for priests, deacons and parish community members to help each learn how to recognize, respond to and reconcile the myriad symptoms of post-abortion trauma that can appear not only in women but also in men, grandparents, siblings, friends and others.

“I was aware that some women experience difficulties for many years, even decades, after having had an abortion,” said Father Roger Gustafson, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in San Francisco. “What I didn’t understand until this workshop was how frequently women suffer these negative effects and how many different and serious problems can emerge.”

Abortion-related disorders can include low self-esteem, denial, anger, withdrawal and alienation from others, flashbacks, hallucinations, marital and family difficulties, unspoken grief and suicidal intention.

Vicki Thorn, who founded Project Rachel, the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church, provided a condensed version of the training used today by over 100 U.S. dioceses. She was joined by Father Kenneth Metz, formerly of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who was on the formation team of Project Rachel with Thorn.

Mary Ann Schwab, coordinator of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Project Rachel ministry, spoke about what makes Project Rachel different than healing in “secular circles.”

“Without the forgiveness of Christ, people are not really able to be healed,” she said.

The training is the archdiocese’s way of responding to the Holy Father’s call in the Year of Mercy to forgive women who have had an abortion.

“The whole Catholic community, from the pope on down, is very interested and very committed to helping people who regret their abortions return to the church and through the peace of the church, find peace in their lives again,” she said.

Schwab said the pope’s call is an affirmation to post-abortive women who may feel “unworthy” of forgiveness, that the church loves them.

“As priests, you are really the dispenser of God’s grace,” she said. “You are in Christ’s place in the sacrament of forgiveness.”

Thorn said that there have been 56 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1972 decision that legalized abortion.

“The healing after an abortion can take a long time,” she said. “My guess is that many of you have had women come repeatedly to confession because she doesn’t feel forgiven.”

She said that it’s important that priests recognize all who are hurt by an abortion, not “just the dead baby.”

Men can suffer greatly from the wound of an abortion decision, according to Thorn.

“In our society, we call men sperm donors,” she said. “We say, ‘it’s not your body it’s mine,’ or ‘it’s none of your business.’ It leaves a man, with a need to protect, without a way to.”

There are many men who would have saved that baby any way they could, if they could, she said. “And those men are angry and hurting,”

Thorn said abortion makes people afraid, and they stay away from the church and remain in pain. She urged priests to help create a safe environment for all who might be suffering, to seek healing through the church.

“You can gently introduce the topic of forgiveness in homily or other pastoral messages without breaking any seal of confession by talking about who is touched,” she said.

“Priests often tell me that when they do that, people always come up afterward to talk,” she said.

‘Redeemed: Rosary Meditations for Post-Abortive Women’
Patti J. Smith knows what it is like to be beaten down by the memory of choosing abortion but her faith has saved her, she is quick to tell you. A member of the Association of Christian Therapists and a coordinator for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, she leads Rachel’s After Hope Healing Retreats in Southern California. Her 32-page book offers meditations for each of the mysteries of the rosary. In the introduction, she writes: “The physical side-effects of abortion can be dealt with medically: however, this devotional will focus on healing the soul.” For more information, visit or Smith’s blog,

From September 29, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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