Protecting, nurturing human life at every stage
September 27, 2016
HOUSTON — As the 2016 Pro-life month begins in October, the faithful are reminded that an important missions of the Catholic Church is to protect and nurture life at every stage.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “...human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. (USCCB, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, Nov. 2001)
The Pro-Life Activities Office (PLA) of the Archdiocese, which is now under new leadership by Director Julie Fritsch, implements this directive from the USCCB through education, pastoral care, prayer and legislation. The aim of the ministry’s programs and services is to support and protect the sacredness of all human life, from conception until natural death. It is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).
The practice of abortion in America remains on the forefront of pro-life issues, and Fritsch believes the PLA has a real opportunity to educate the faithful about its consequences and how it has affected the Church.
“Abortion is a huge problem for Catholics, and many families may believe they are alone in their struggle with post-abortive distress and that there is nowhere to turn in the Church,” said Fritsch. “As we gain more knowledge of the devastating psychological effects of abortion, not only on mothers, but on fathers and grandparents, it is necessary to address post-abortion healing for all members of the family. We hope to begin a post-abortion healing program for men in 2017.”
The ministry to care for those suffering from the aftermath of abortion is Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s ministry of trained clergy, counselors and lay people. In addition to referring for Sacramental Reconciliation, the ministry provides an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals. Project Rachael currently offers four retreats a year in both English and Spanish in the Archdiocese and hopes to expand this number in future years.
“Many have bought into the cultural myth that ‘even if it’s not good for the baby, at least it [the abortion] is good for the woman,’” Fritsch said. “It would be impossible to attend a retreat for post-abortion healing and come away with the idea that the procedure is in any way ‘good’ for women or their families. The psychological and spiritual trauma and regret is long-standing and often severe, for both mothers and fathers.”
A new ministry the PLA is currently planning is called Jerome’s Hope, named after the French pediatrician, geneticist and servant of God, Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the chromosomal basis for Down Syndrome and other genetic conditions. Lejeune spoke out strongly against the legalization of abortion in France, which began with argument for elimination of “defectives,” as people with genetic conditions were then known.
“More families are being pressured into abortion as a consequence of prenatal medicine becoming more sophisticated, with an increasing range of fetal anomalies or potential anomalies detected before birth,” said Fritsch. “We, as Catholics, have both an opportunity and an obligation to support families going through these difficulties and provide spiritual, psychological and, where necessary, material support.”
Fritsch said she recently met a Catholic couple attending a post-abortion healing retreat following the loss of their son, Michael, to abortion. John and Emma were already the parents of three boys when Michael was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and an accompanying heart defect during Emma’s second trimester. The couple was strongly advised by their doctor that aborting Michael was the compassionate choice for their family and were given only 48 hours to make the decision.
Fritsch said the couple took their doctor’s advice to their subsequent regret. Both expressed significant guilt at not having protected Michael and reported problems in their relationships with one another and with their other children as a result of the abortion. On learning about the new Archdiocesan program, Jerome’s Hope, both John and Emma expressed excitement and offered to help so that other parents would not face the unfortunate ultimatum they had been given.
Fritsch said the PLA also addresses other social trends and practices that lead to the devaluing of life at all stages. Currently many programs are in development in partnerships with youth offices, Office of Aging, and Catholic Charities. In addition, a program to assist persons with same-sex attraction is underway.
Fritsch said all programs, whether direct service or education, require funding like the DSF to remain in operation.
“We try to keep any costs for our direct services as low as possible, and to offer scholarships for programs, such as post-abortion retreats, so that no one who needs help is prevented from seeking it out,” said Fritsch. “We hope to begin offering educational seminars and retreats focusing on various aspects of pro-life/Catholic Social Teaching.”
The PLA also would like to offer more assistance during a limited period after the baby’s birth to the nearly 800 women that annually participate in the Gabriel Project. Also, it would like to involve more parishes, schools and other resources in events in Austin and possibly Washington D.C. so the Catholic voice is heard.