AMS provides awareness training for Catholic chaplains
GRAFENWOEHR, GERMANY – United States military Catholic chaplains assigned to Europe are honing their pastoral skills at dealing with what experts say is a serious spiritual issue among women and men serving in the U.S armed forces: coping with the side-effects of an abortion. Seventeen U.S. Army and Air Force priests endorsed by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) attended an awareness training workshop here Monday to gain insights on counseling abortion survivors, including women who have had abortions as well as their husbands, boyfriends, family members or others involved in, or affected by, the decision to have an abortion. His Excellency, the Most Reverend F. Richard Spencer, Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia, was among those in attendance.
The AMS put on the workshop, promoting Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion. Since its origins as a therapeutic support group in 1986, Rachel’s Vineyard has grown into a global ministry that holds more than 700 retreats annually in 47 states and 25 countries, with many new sites in development, including U.S. military communities around the world. Workshop leader Julie Enriquez said the need for the ministry is especially great in the military because the military lifestyle may, in some cases, promote abortion. “An unplanned pregnancy,” she said, “may affect the readiness and mission capability of a woman or couple in the military, and so she may put herself under greater pressure to terminate the pregnancy. Also, the wife of a serviceman may choose to abort her baby due to the deployment of her husband because she doesn’t believe she can do it alone.”
According to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 50 million abortions were performed in the U.S. from 1973 through 2008. At current rates, one in three American women will have at least one abortion by the age of 45. Enriquez said women who choose abortion commonly suffer any of a range of side-effects, including anxiety, panic, regret, guilt, sadness, depression, feelings of loss, self-esteem issues, inability to forgive themselves, nightmares, flashbacks, anger, rage, shame, rejection, emotional pain, numbness and self-destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, eating disorders, promiscuity, suicidal thinking, suicide attempts and marital or relational problems. Some women experience a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) called “Post-Abortion Trauma.”
Enriquez said a military or combat setting could arguably compound the impact of these symptoms, placing the lives and well-being of fellow servicemen and women in jeopardy. “If a service woman experienced post-abortion trauma during stressful situations in the form of a panic attack, anger, or rage, she could pose a risk to herself and other Soldiers, Sailors or Airmen, especially in training or live-fire situations. That’s why it is so important for military personnel and the military at large to have effective spiritual counseling readily available to those who need it.”
Enriquez said about 70% of women who choose abortion align themselves with evangelical Christianity or Roman Catholicism. She said chaplains should keep that in mind, because abortion recipients with religious backgrounds tend to keep their abortion secret. “The grief they experience at times goes unrecognized even by the woman herself,” she said, “and the grief is frequently repressed or denied.”
Bishop Spencer said:
“With abortion so prevalent throughout our society as well as in the military, chaplains and those they counsel can only benefit from quality awareness training on how to help people heal once they’ve experienced the trauma of abortion. After all, military chaplains are the primary point of contact for any service member undergoing spiritual suffering, and sometimes, they are the only point of contact. It’s important that chaplains be prepared and spiritually well-armed to deal with these issues. I commend Rachel’s Vineyard on an extremely worthwhile ministry, and Julie Enriquez on an outstanding and relevant workshop, and I’m particularly glad to see them extending their reach to the military.”
As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses priests for on-site ministry at more than 350 locations throughout the country and around the world to Catholics and their families in the U.S. armed forces, VA Medical Centers and civilian posts outside our borders. Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 million Catholics depend on the AMS to serve their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit http://www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.