Thursday, May 10, 2012
We must offer women who have had an abortion hope and encouragement and avoid judging their internal guilt
It was St. Augustine, Father and Doctor of the Church, who said, "Interficere errorem, diligere errantem" - Kill the error, love the one who errs. I have actually taken that as the motto for this Blog. Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council put it this way: "..it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone." (No. 28).
This teaching isn't always understood by some. In an article on abortion which may be found at LifeSiteNews, Stacy Trasancos, who writes a column for The Catholic Free Press, writes, "It's a faulty question to ask whether or not a woman suffers mental anguish after she kills her own child. Of course she does, a woman with her sanity and dignity intact doesn't do that in the first place....a woman who kills her child in the womb is suffering mentally and will suffer mentally afterwards. Something is terribly wrong in her soul and in her life." See here.
But here we encounter an immediate problem. To say that there is something "terribly wrong" in the soul of a woman who has had an abortion and that her sanity and dignity are not intact is to make a judgment about her internal guilt and her motives. The very thing which the teaching of the Church forbids.
Pope John Paul II, in his wonderful Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, explains that many factors influence the decision which a woman makes when she is burdened with an untimely pregnancy. He writes, "As well as the mother, there are often other people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb. In the first place, the father of the child may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have an abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by leaving her alone to face the problems of pregnancy...Nor can one overlook the pressures which sometimes come from the wider family circle and from friends. Sometimes the woman is subjected to such strong pressure that she feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: certainly in this case the moral responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or indirectly obliged her to have an abortion. (EV, No. 59)
The Holy Father also places responsibility for the tragedy of abortion on, "doctors and nurses...when they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promotion of life," and on "legislators who have promoted and approved abortion laws," and, "to the extent that they have a say in the matter, on the administrators of the health-care centers were abortions are performed” (EV, No. 59).
It is always a tragedy when a woman makes the decision to have an abortion. But this decision to have an abortion is made in the context of multiple personal and societal pressures in what Pope John Paul II so aptly termed the "culture of death." Although the responsibility for the abortion decision is not entirely, nor perhaps even primarily hers, she must bear its burdensome consequences almost entirely alone for the rest of her life. So perhaps it's best to avoid questioning her sanity and dignity?
Perhaps instead, we should follow the lead of Pope John Paul II, whose pastoral outreach to women who have had an abortion is a model of tenderness and compassion [rightly understood] as well as being hopeful:
"I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases I was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation." (EV, No. 99).
Notice how the Holy Father does not condone sin or error? He rightly stresses that an abortion is, objectively speaking, a grave wrong even as he offers hope and encouragement by reminding women who have had an abortion that forgiveness and peace may be theirs in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
One would think that Stacy Trasancos would understand this better than most. For she has herself admitted, at the website Catholic Online, that she got pregnant in college, has had an abortion, that she's taken drugs and worked as a stripper, that she's been divorced, and that her seven children are from three different men.
The same Good God Who forgave Stacy her sins offers His Mercy to every woman who has had an abortion. Perhaps instead of questioning the souls of such women or their dignity and sanity, Stacy could follow Pope John Paul II's lead? As should we all.
Kill the error, love the one who errs. Hate the sin, love the sinner.