Although it is not always recognized, the damage left by a divorce or an abortion can be devastating. These actions have not only physical consequences, but psychological and spiritual ones as well. No individual or family comes out of either experience unharmed. Recently, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute’s International Congress, comprised of the world’s foremost experts in each field, was held to discuss the suffering of people who have been affected by these acts and the ways in which their lingering pain should be approached and relieved. The findings of this symposium, compiled by leading authorities Carl Anderson and Father Livio Melina, form the basis of Oil on the Wounds: A Response to the Aftermath of Divorce and Abortion.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section deals with the aftermath of divorce, its long-term effects on the social lives of children, and the ways in which the Church can offer compassion and counsel to those affected. The second section addresses the issue of abortion, the pain that results from ending a pregnancy, and what the Church’s role should be in the alleviation of that pain. The text relies on sociological and psychological perspectives to illuminate these “wounds,” and suggests both practical and spiritual methods of healing. Inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, this volume asks us to recognize the profound torment left in the wake of divorce and abortion. It urges us to act accordingly in the face of these ordeals—to shoulder the burden of the tormented in an attempt to one day alleviate their suffering by the grace of God.
Ultimately, this collection of essays is meant to create a dialogue, promote recognition of those psychologically and spiritually harmed by divorce or abortion, and explore our duty to listen to these victims and, like the Good Samaritan, “bandage” their wounds. This book is for laymen, professionals, and clergy who seek to understand the issues not only from a religious point of view, but also from a human perspective.
Carl Anderson is the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and Vice-President of the American Section of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, where he is a Professor of Family Law. He is the author of the best-selling book A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World, as well as numerous other published works.
Father Livio Melina is the Director and Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at the Pontifical Institute John Paul II for Marital and Family Studies. He is also the Scientific Director of Anthropotes Magazine and the author of a number of books, including Per una Cultura della Famiglia: Il Linguaggio dell'Amore (For the Culture of the Family: The Language of Love).
Address to the Participants at the International Congress
Part One: THE CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
I: The Drama of a Broken Tie
Impact of Separation and Divorce on Children: Research Insights on What Children Need
Broken Ties and the Next Generation: Effects of Marital Separation on Adolescent and Young Adult Children
The Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce
Parents in the Wake of Divorce: Some Points of Reference on Theological Ethics
II: A Pastoral Approach
A Pastoral Care Plan for Children of Divorce
Building a Ministry with Children of Divorce: Obstacles & How to Overcome Them
An Educational Initiative Addressing Children of Divorce in the Church
“Voice Groups” for Children of Divided Families
Part Two: THE AFTERMATH OF ABORTION
I: The Hidden Sufferings of Abortion
Being the "Good Samaritan": Between Works of Healing and the Responsibility to Educate
The Dark Side of Maternity
The Psychological Aftermath of Abortion for Children And Families: A Clinical Perspective
The Psychological Consequences of Abortive Mentality in the Family
Abortion of the Sick Child
II: Towards a Pastoral Outreach of Mercy
To Act According the Merciful Example of God
Project Rachel: A Sacramental Response to the Grief of Abortion
A Sacramental Journey to an Inheritance of Mercy
AGAPA: Following Christ, Welcoming and Accompanying Those Who Experience Suffering as a Result of Abortion
The Gift of Support
“Not only oil, but also wine over his wounds”
This introduction does not have the intention of offering a preliminary synthesis of the work undertaken during the two days of presentation and debate of the Congress “Oil on the Wounds: A Response to the Aftermath of Divorce and Abortion”. It expresses instead, a desire for the beginning, or continuation, of a conversion of the heart, which unfolds into a compassion motivating the search for methods and language more appropriate for helping those who have experienced in their own lives the pain and the profound wound of a divorce or an abortion.
Millions of people each year are affected by the trauma resulting from both abortion and divorce. And as each year passes, the cumulative effect becomes more staggering. Rather than being a quick solution, abortion unwittingly leads many – both men and women – into a harrowing and complex psychological journey of depression, anxiety, and other emotional disturbances that often lead to a series of broken relationships. And for the many children of divorce, their parents’ separation is frequently linked to loss of faith, higher rates of depression, behavioral and relational difficulties, and even suicide. A culture that readily embraced the “right to choose” and the “no-fault divorce” is beginning to learn that these quick fixes have exacted a heavy price.
This Congress is a response to the growing awareness that the personal, relational, and societal effects of abortion and divorce have brought us to a point where something must be done.
On the fundamental question of dignity of every human life, the Church has always and everywhere raised her prophetic voice. Now more than ever, on the question of the deep emotional trauma brought about by abortion and divorce, we see that her prophetic voice is being matched by her concern for those who carry this sorrow.
Indeed, the Church is not a new-comer to these issues. The young Father Karol Wojtyla’s experience as a pastor led him to a deep understanding of the trauma that takes place after abortion. In 1960 in Love and Responsibility, he discussed a woman’s complex emotional response:
“Apart from its physical effects, artificial abortion causes an anxiety neurosis with guilt feelings at its core, and sometimes even a profound psychotic reaction. In this context we may note the significance of statements by women suffering from depression … who sometimes a decade or so after the event remember the terminated pregnancy with regret and feel a belated sense of guilt on this account”.1
Pope John Paul II’s understanding of post-abortion trauma would later find voice in Evangelium Vitae. Speaking directly to post-abortive women, he said:
“Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope… 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. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living with the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. 2
It is fitting that we have discussed these topics during the second week of the Easter, a time when the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of our salvation in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus is known as the “Salvator,” which literally means “one who brings good health.” A great writer of the Patristic time, Origen, interpreted the parable of the Good Samaritan using Christ as the key: Christ is the true Good Samaritan, Who makes Himself man, descending from heaven in order to help all of humanity which lies at the edge of the road, stripped and wounded by sin, incapable of reaching the goal. It is He who cures humanity, paying in person and, loading humanity upon Himself, brings it to the inn which is the Church. It is He who promises to return at the end of time. Origen explains that “Samaritan” is not an inconvenient title for Jesus, who, in effect, does not refuse it when it is directed towards Him as an accusation by the Pharisees. Etymologically, “Samaritan” means “keeper.” This calls to mind, in antithesis, Cain’s response to God after the first murder. To the question, “Where is your brother?” he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper (Samaritan)?” Jesus is the true keeper of His brothers, and we also, in Him and in the Church, are called to become keepers of our brothers, stripped and wounded at the edges of the roads which we follow.
In our present day – indeed, perhaps now more than ever, the Church is called to be the “inn” we hear about in the parable of the Good Samaritan, a place where the wounded can be brought back to health. It is Christ himself who calls us to have “a heart which sees” and to act accordingly. Those who have suffered the pain of their parents’ divorce or the trauma of abortion should experience the healing mercy of God in the embrace of the Church.
This must be our mission: to bring the healing power of Christ to those who have suffered, and to show them that their suffering can have a purpose. We are now seeing that those who have lived through the experience of abortion and divorce are able to help others experience the healing mercy of God. And in doing so they witness to the legacy and memory of John Paul II, who showed us so many years ago – both through his teaching and example – that “suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love toward neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love.” 3
“Oil on the Wounds”: At this point, we will allow ourselves a small “correction” by finishing the title of this volume, which could have been more faithfully rendered “Wine and Oil on the Wounds,” since the Good Samaritan, along with the oil, also poured wine on the wounds of the traveler. Why? Any doctor would be able to explain that before alleviating the pain, it is necessary to disinfect the wound, eliminating all that could infect it and expose the patient to further danger. This is a good reply; however, it is not enough by itself to explain the intention of this book. In fact, wine in the Sacred Scriptures is connected with the feasting banquet. Wine helps to celebrate and allows the banqueters to be cheerful; it brings joy. One cannot cure a person without bringing joy, without having it oneself. To truly cure, one must have great hope, but as Charles Péguy says, “One does not have hope if one has not first received great joy,” and the joy that one can and one must communicate is that which comes from God. Here is the importance for Christians of having present not only the oil, but also the wine. Christians are called to be a joyful people, capable of announcing this joy even in the midst of these dramas and of alleviating the wounds not only with the oil of consolation, but also with the joy of a hope, which begins today while still awaiting its final completion: that of the new wine which we will drink in the Kingdom of Heaven, where all wounds and tears will be dried.
1. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. (Willetts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York), 1981, 284-285.
2. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1997), no. 99.
3. Pope John Paul II, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (February 11, 1984), no. 30.