April 22, 2016

Rachel’s Vineyard retreats ‘allow God’s mercy to flow’ for women and men in need of post-abortion healing

Judy Sweeney, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute, holds a sign stating that women regret abortion during last year’s Life Chain in Terre Haute on Respect Life Sunday on Oct. 4. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis offers many post-abortion healing ministries. (File photo submitted by Tom McBroom)

Judy Sweeney, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute, holds a sign stating that women regret abortion during last year’s Life Chain in Terre Haute on Respect Life Sunday on Oct. 4. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis offers many post-abortion healing ministries. (File photo submitted by Tom McBroom)

By Natalie Hoefer

Bernadette Roy, a member of St. Ann Parish in Indianapolis, sees a certain phenomenon in every Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion healing retreat she helps facilitate.

“There’s a beauty in watching people come in with their head hung in shame, and leaving with hope and a renewed sense that God loves them,” she says.

Roy can relate—she, too, once sought healing from hiding her pain over an abortion she had as a pregnant single mother of two boys in the 1980s. She silently ached for more than 20 years before seeking help.

“By that time, I’d had an annulment and was married,” she says. “I went to confession, but I couldn’t forgive myself.”

Roy helped Servants of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo, then-director of pro-life ministries in the archdiocese, implement the internationally offered Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat for the first time in the archdiocese in 2006.

Related resources: Post-abortion healing ministries: ‘Extending God’s love and forgiveness’

‘We allow God’s grace to flow’

The retreat addresses both the spiritual and psychological effects of abortion, says Pauline Kattady, a behavioral health specialist who serves as a counselor during the retreats.

“You can’t separate the two,” she says. “The structure of the retreat is made so people address deep, deep things—loss, mental health issues, unhealthy relationships. All [of those components are] addressed from the spiritual aspect and from the psychological aspect, too.”

According to the Rachel’s Vineyard website, www.rachelsvineyard.org, the retreat “is an opportunity to examine your abortion experience, identify the ways that the loss has impacted you in the past and present, and to acknowledge any unresolved feelings that many individuals struggle with after abortion.”

During the retreat, says Roy, the facilitators—who have all attended the retreat as participants in the past—help “connect you to why you made the decision [to have or participate in an abortion]; where were you in your life spiritually, financially, and emotionally; and walk slowly into reconnecting with the event and making it what it was—the death of a child. Then you connect with that child at your own pace.

“On Sunday, there’s a memorial service. It’s about remembering your child and yourself—your life as it was—and reconnecting your head, your heart and your soul, and putting yourself back together. It’s a lifetime project.”

Kattady, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, first participated in the retreat in 2009 to overcome the pain of learning that a family member had had an abortion. She admits that the weekend is “intense.”

“The participants are called to address deep wounds,” she says. “I always say you see them come in Friday evening, and you can see the pain in their faces and body language. Come Sunday, you can see the glow. I have never seen one person leave without the glow. That’s God’s doing.”

At each retreat, a priest is available for the sacrament of penance or to talk with non-Catholics, whom Roy says usually make up about one-third of the retreat participants. Mass is also offered during the weekend.

When asked what makes the retreat so effective, Kattady says she “can’t emphasize enough that it is God’s mercy.

“His love is transmitted in our works. The Holy Spirit really guides what you say. … The facilitators and counselors involved are rooted in the faith to the point that we realize we’re there, but it’s not our doing. We allow God’s grace to flow.

“It’s inevitable that you leave being touched. Healing is not complete, but it has begun.”

‘I had not fulfilled my purpose as a man’

As a facilitator for the retreat, Eric Slaughter has a unique perspective. He is also a past participant as he sought to seek healing for helping pay for the abortion of his daughter.

Before Slaughter and his first wife married, they conceived a child.

“She asked me to give her half the money for an abortion,” he says. “I didn’t understand what abortion actually was at the time. In my mind, it was a blob of tissue, not a baby.”

After he was received into the full communion of the Church in 2004, the member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis says he learned the truth about abortion and began to grieve his role in the abortion of his child. He attended the first-ever archdiocesan Rachel’s Vineyard in 2006.

Slaughter says some women are surprised to see a man on the retreat. But through his experience, he’s learned that men hurt from abortion, too.

“Before [the abortion, the baby] was an abstract idea,” he says. “The retreat helped me to understand that there was a person missing, a real person, a soul.

“I realized I had not fulfilled my purpose as a man, which is to protect my baby and the mother. ... For me, for men, a very important part of abortion is we’re taught that it’s not a baby and that we have no say, so our purpose as a man is taken away.”

Through the retreat, Slaughter says, he came to not only acknowledge that a life had been lost, but he also learned to “accept my guilt, my part in it. … The retreat helped me realize I could let go of the pain, but still have a relationship with my [aborted] daughter.”

Whether man or woman, a direct participant in the abortion or a family member or friend of someone who had an abortion, Slaughter says that “if someone is considering coming, it’s the Lord who is tugging at their heart. He’s waiting for them there to show them his mercy.”

Kattady agrees.

“Many come with a sense of shame, but after they take that first step, God takes a thousand more.”

(For more information on Rachel’s Vineyard, log on to www.archindy.org/projectrachel, call Bernadette Roy or Rebecca Niemerg at 317-452-0054, or e-mail projectrachel@archindy.org. For a list of all Rachel’s Vineyard retreats throughout the United States and beyond, log on to www.rachelsvineyard.org.)

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