This past Saturday Pope Benedict XVI outlined appropriate pastoral responses to what he called the "wounds of abortion and divorce," which he said "involve so much suffering in the lives of individuals, families and society."
The Holy Father was addressing a group of scholars from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Lateran University. The Institute was holding a several day long conference entitled "Oil on the Wounds: A Response to the Aftermath of Abortion and Divorce."
Benedict opened his remarks by congratulating the participants on their pertinent choice of topic, and said that when it comes to matters of abortion and divorce, and the wounds which they cause, there is a "conspiracy of silence" that often leaves victims "stripped and wounded" and "often without anyone to listen to their cry for help." Both abortion and divorce, he said, arise out of a civilization that is increasingly individualistic and hedonistic and that often fails to offer solidarity and support to those who are facing the difficult circumstances that lead people to choose abortion or divorce as a solution.
The Holy Father also pointed out that while both abortion and divorce can be painful and destructive for those who believe they must choose them, there is the added evil of entirely innocent victims – "the baby that has just been conceived but not yet born, the children involved in the breakdown of family ties."
"The Church's ethical judgment concerning abortion and divorce is clear and well-known to everyone," he said. "They are grave sins which – in various ways and with due evaluation of subjective responsibilities – injure the dignity of the human person, involve a profound injustice in human and social relationships, and offend God Himself, the guarantor of the marital bond and the architect of life".
However, Benedict observed that the best response to these great evils is not condemnation, but "the attitude of merciful love," through which we can "bring help and enable victims to rise up again and resume the course of their lives." In this effort "the Church has the primary duty to approach them with love and sensitivity, with maternal care and attention, to proclaim the closeness of the merciful God in Jesus Christ."
Benedict pointed out that the Church has always had great confidence in the ability of human beings to make the choice to do what is right, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
"The Church cultivates an indomitable faith in mankind and its capacity for recovery. She knows that, with the help of grace, human freedom is capable of the definitive and faithful giving of self which makes it possible for the marriage of a man and a woman to be an indissoluble bond", just as she knows that "human freedom, even in the most difficult circumstances, is capable of extraordinary gestures of sacrifice and solidarity to accept the life of a new human being".
And while many criticize the Church for a seemingly restrictive morality that curtails freedom, "it may be seen that the 'nos' pronounced by the Church in her moral guidelines, and upon which public opinion sometimes unilaterally fixes its attention, are in fact so many 'yeses' to the dignity of human beings, their lives and their capacity to love".
Benedict XVI repeatedly emphasized the mercy of God, telling those women who have obtained abortions: "Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope….The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation".