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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

If I had an abortion, what are the steps I’d need to take to reconcile with the Church?

Neela Kale Answers:

A stained-glass window illustrating the sacrament of reconciliation at Our Lady of Ostrabrama Church in Cutchogue, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Thank you for your question, which shows great courage and faith and is already a step towards reconciliation. The Church is eager to welcome you and help you find healing and forgiveness. The best place to start is to talk to a trusted spiritual advisor. He or she will encourage you and support you as you work through the emotions surrounding your experience. When you are ready, one important step will be to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Preparing for that moment and moving forward with trust in God’s mercy afterwards will take time and you will need ongoing support.

While this is certainly not the most important aspect of the process, a technical point may be of interest to some readers. Church teaching identifies some sins as so serious that they excommunicate a person — they separate that person from the communion of the Church. Abortion is considered one of these serious sins. Even though a Church court has not officially imposed it — as it’s likely that no one knows what happened except the parties directly involved — the penalty of excommunication still takes effect. If excommunication is officially imposed, there is an official process to remove it (and sometimes only the pope can do so.) But if it has not been officially imposed, as in this case, a bishop, in sacramental confession, can lift the excommunication, and the person can be reconciled with the Church. Bishops can delegate this power to other priests in their diocese. Today most bishops in the United States have done so, which means that any priest, in reconciliation, can absolve you from the sin of abortion. While for many years a person who has had an abortion would be told to confess to the bishop, today that is no longer necessary. When you are ready, you can seek out any priest with whom you feel comfortable and ask him to hear your confession. I pray that you will find in the sacrament a moment of grace and that you will know God’s boundless mercy and abiding love for you.

Resource: Rachel’s Vineyard is an excellent resource for those who have been affected by abortion.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Mr Goodwin

    Hi, I am a Christian but NOT a catholic and will be surprised if this gets be posted, but hope it will.

    Although I do not agree with abortion, it’s down to you to make this decision. Jesus will always forgive you, that is the hole point of the cross. You do not have to ask a priest to absolve you from your sin. They are NO better than you or I, they are human and commit sins everyday just like all other christians. I am not saying that you can go around doing what you want as it will be forgiven but am saying Jesus does forgive a genuine repentance. God / Jesus is the ONLY person that can forgive you of your sins.

    • Catherine Wood

      Your opinion is that of a protestant. For a Catholic to take that view would be heretical. Reconciliation is a Sacrament that Catholics should partake of often. For 1500 years all Christians partook of it. The so-called Reformation threw the baby out with the bath water.

      • Mike Hayes

        The priest acts as the mediator between God and us. He is not God, nor does God need the priest to forgive sins. WE do. We need to have a process to formally wake us up from our sinfulness and more importantly, to remind us of God’s mercy. If we didn’t have confession how many do you think would be mindful of either?

    • Irene Matthews

      How do you then explain the verse (when Jesus, speaking to the apostles,)
      John 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them;
      23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

  • Ann Turner

    An interesting and moving reflection on confronting her own abortions occurs in Heather King’s short piece on abortion (the name I forget, but is on Kindle). She is a Catholic convert, a woman who struggled with alcohol for many years, who came to see her own abortions clearly and sorrowfully. But not so much in judgment.

  • Doug

    For those in need of forgiveness from the sin of abortion, go to http://rachelsvineyard.org/

    While many “spiritual advisors” have probably encountered women who have had abortions, many times, the emotional damage are well beyond the capacity of a typical spiritual advisor unless they are a licensed psychologist as well.

    Find a priest, make a confession and remove the excommunication, and ask the priest to refer you to a licensed therapist to assist you with your emotional recovery.

    • Mike Hayes

      Good point Doug.

  • Karlos

    Dorothy Day, one of the great Cathlics of the 20th Century, had an abortion – and yet she is now a candidate for sainthood.
    Another great resource for post-abortive women are the Sisters of Life, whose mission is in part dedicated to working with such women. Their website is http://sistersoflife.org/

  • kevin

    Does anyone know any lady Catholics who have random, willy-nilly sex because she can just abort if she makes a mistake? Didn’t think so. Know why? I do. Abortion is a traumatic medical procedure. Ladies have abortions out of necessity, not as “the other option.” We must all help and have compassion for ladies who endure abortions.

    • geo

      Most women who have abortions are living a life with out God.. We shouldn’t judge them after an abortion but we should do all we can to let them know that God’s mercy and lI’ve is more powerful than sin which abortions surely are!!

  • James Leo Oliver

    Perfectly written. God bless you.

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