Embracing All Who Suffer Loss: Seminarians Train for Post-Abortion Counseling
Five of us from St. Vladimir’s—Dn. Timothy Yates, Monk James Stevens, Seminarian Adam Horstman, Hierodeacon Herman Majkrzak, and myself, Dn. David Wooten—recently traveled to nearby St. Joseph’s Seminary (aka "Dunwoodie"), a Roman Catholic seminary in Yonkers, to take advantage of a post-abortion counseling training seminar. St. Joseph's was hosting "Lumina Ministries," the post-abortion counseling ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and had graciously invited all clergy and seminarians to attend, free of charge, these sessions that sought to help church leaders provide help for all victims of abortion—not only the unborn but also the mother, father, and family of the unborn child.
Theresa Bonapartis, head of Lumina Ministries, delivered the afternoon sessions (seminarians from St. Vladimir’s were unable to attend the morning sessions due to class requirements), in which she detailed the hurt and confusion that the would-be parents or siblings experience in the aftermath of abortion. Accompanying her in her presentations was Fr. Mariusz Koch, CFR, Vicar of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Together, they outlined common emotional responses and spiritual dilemmas that these living victims of abortion often suffer through. Theresa spoke from her own experience as a post-abortive woman, while Fr. Koch provided anecdotes of how these responses usually manifest themselves in confessional or parochial settings.
The sessions were oriented specifically towards training priests, and Theresa spoke of her own soul's healing, effected by a priest who was sensitive to the trauma of abortion: he not only acknowledged her pain over a sin that had damaged her soul but also declared to her that, yes, God is merciful, and that there is no sin that our heavenly Father cannot forgive, no wound He is unwilling to make whole.
We trainees were told over and over that these two attributes of truth and compassion—affirming the sinfulness of abortion, and declaring the mercy and forgiveness of God—were always to be presented together in order to effectively and rightly minister to men and women who are confused and hurt in the wake of their ordeal. The clarity this approach provides serves as a remedy for the lies many women tell themselves and for the lies that family, friends, and even clergymen may tell them. From serial confession (“God couldn’t possibly have forgiven me last time, or ever!”) to presumption and false compassion (“Well, since God forgives and the baby’s in heaven instead of in a hard life on earth, abortion is technically OK.”) and all points in between, these ways of dealing with emotional and spiritual wounds were addressed and diagnosed.
Following Theresa’s and Fr. Koch’s sessions, we listened to a very moving testimony by a woman, Gail, who had had two abortions—one at her parents’ behest when she was in her teens and one as an adult—and her moving story of the emotional turmoil that ensued; her invitation to a retreat at a Roman Catholic monastery by a devoutly Catholic friend and coworker; her subsequent confrontation of her past through the guidance of loving, compassionate lay, clergy, and monastic attendees of the retreat; and her final encounter with Jesus Christ during the night when she confessed her sins and felt for the first time that forgiveness was not only possible, but a reality He was ready to give to her. It was evident that the constant presence of concerned, loving people all along the way was vital to her healing; had the people not been present to provide caring support for her, she would have known neither the severity of her sin, nor the forgiveness of her Savior.
We were very grateful for the opportunity to attend the afternoon half of these sessions, and we hope that this relationship between Catholics and Orthodox will continue to flourish. We also hope that our shared heritage of care for life in and out of the womb would result in our mutual stance being not only “anti-abortion” but also truly “pro-life.”
For, what does it mean to be “pro-life”? Many who style themselves as “pro-life” are all too often simply “anti-abortion,” and often simply lock themselves into concern for the baby’s pre-natal development while neglecting other, post-natal needs. Furthermore, many anti-abortion advocates focus so much on the baby’s survival that they neglect (or worse, condemn!) the “living victims” that are also traumatized by the horrific event. From the despair of young or poor mothers who very often are thrust into a seemingly hopeless situation by a boyfriend or husband who refuses to stay and care for her and the little one growing inside of her, to the anguish of would-be fathers whose partners had aborted their children, to the “survivor’s trauma” of children who were told that their parents had aborted the children who would have been their older siblings—these are also the victims of the reality of abortion.