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

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.

Neela Kale

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.