by Moira Cullings
LEAWOOD — Somewhere in the world, a woman is kneeling inside a confessional, trying to speak the unspeakable.
She’s finally mustered the courage to confess a sin that has been burdening her heart for years: an abortion.
And although she trusts God will forgive her, she doesn’t yet feel like she can forgive herself.
That’s where Project Rachel comes in.
The ministry is designed to bring healing and support to those affected by abortion, and Catholic priests play a key role in that mission.
That’s why on Jan. 26, nearly 30 priests from both sides of the state line gathered at Church of the Nativity in Leawood to hear from the leaders of Project Rachel — as well as Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann — about their crucial role in the ministry.
Priests are the pillars of this program
“The women I have helped over the years — and it’s been 31 years since Project Rachel started — have said to me again and again, ‘Please tell the priests how important they are to this ministry,’” said program founder Vicki Thorn. “‘Please tell them that when I went to confession, when I met with Father, I saw the face of Jesus.’”
“I know that many times,” Thorn told the gathered clergy, “your lives are hard. You’ve got all kinds of parish problems and other things going on. And in our world, sometimes you’re not appreciated.
“But what you do is so important to God’s work.”
It is estimated that some 10 million Catholic women and men have been impacted by an abortion.
The burden, said Archbishop Naumann, is often too great for them to handle alone.
“There are a lot of post-abortive individuals sitting in our pews each and every Sunday. Many of them have perhaps sought reconciliation, but many haven’t,” he continued.
“Despite all of our efforts, I think there are still many people that consider abortion as the one unforgivable sin,” said the archbishop. “[We need to] help them to realize that’s not the case.”
How can we help?
The leaders of Project Rachel want people to know that the members and ministries of the Catholic Church are a resource for those hurting from abortion.
“When we invite people to tell their stories, we’re changing out the stereotype,” said Thorn, “because the stereotype is we are the enemy, we are going to condemn them, we’re going to yell at them.”
In reality, “we not only promote life, but we are the first ones to go into the battlefield and look for the wounded, and minister to those who have had an abortion with compassion and mercy,” said Pat Klausner, program coordinator of the Project Rachel ministry in Kansas.
Listening attentively is a major way we can help these men and women begin to heal.
Thorn also urged the priests to reach out to all the “walking wounded,” not just the women who have had an abortion.
That point really resonated with at least one priest in the audience, Father Gerard Alba of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.
“To realize that not just the mother and child, but the father, the siblings, the grandparents, the friends, all of us have been affected,” said Father Alba.
“And we’ve all experienced some sort of that hurt, too,” he added.
Making the most of this Year of Mercy
The event’s speakers highlighted the significant role this Year of Mercy will play for all who have sins weighing on their hearts, especially abortion.
“[Often] in your ministry, you’ve had the opportunity, and a very challenging opportunity, to minister to couples who have lost a child,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“When you layer on top of that — in the case of abortion — not only have I lost a child but . . . I chose the death of my child . . . what a profound experience of guilt that can be,” he continued.
“Normally when we grieve something, we’ve got this network, this support group, that helps us and accompanies us,” said the archbishop. “But the post-abortive individual most often feels cut off from that.”
That’s what makes Project Rachel an “amazingly transformative” ministry, said Klausner, who believes the key to showing mercy is being gentle.
“There’s no need for us to heap any more guilt on them,” she said. “Because, believe me, they heap enough of that on themselves.”