World Youth Day reminded us that the sacrament can open the doors to new life

I was on holiday last week and blissfully out of touch with emails. My daughter kindly suggested that I could access them on her laptop, to which I instantly replied: “No thanks!” This means that I have been wading through them all on my return.

Two news items in particular have caught my eye: the first, reported in CF News, explained that during World Youth Day in Spain, between August 16-22, all priests had been given the special privilege by the Madrid archdiocese of granting absolution to people who confess to having had an abortion, “so that all the faithful who attend the celebrations of WYD can more easily access the fruits of divine grace, which opens the door to a new life for them”. According to Canon Law, individual priests would normally require special authorisation to do so.

The second item, from John Smeaton’s blog, drew attention to an article by Ruth Padawer in the New York Times magazine, about a woman aged 45, pregnant with twins after six years of fertility bills, injections, donor eggs and disappointment and 14 weeks into her pregnancy, who had chosen to abort one of her babies. “Reducing a pregnancy”, a euphemism for deciding to kill one of the twins, is apparently very common in pregnancies occurring as a result of IVF. The British Department of Health abortion statistics for 2010 reveal that last year there were 85 abortions which involved selective terminations; in 51 cases twins were “reduced” to one baby.

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These items caught my eye because even though one might be on holiday and avoiding emails, you still cannot avoid the normal experiences of life which then lead to reflection on the human condition and the mystery of suffering. One evening we happened to watch a DVD: a Dutch film about a true story of twin girls being forcibly separated aged six when their parents died. One was adopted by a wealthy family and stayed in Holland; the other was fostered out to a poor farming couple in Germany and treated as a servant. The theme of the film was that the two girls’ missing relationship to each other remained the dominant theme of their lives; they yearned to be together and mourned the loss of their early closeness, unable to comprehend the cruel decision to separate them.

It made me reflect on the emotional burden that the surviving twin of a “selective termination” will carry throughout life, never to know the companionship of the sibling who shared an all-too-brief closeness in the womb. Do these mothers, who have made so many sacrifices to become pregnant in the first place, not think of the trauma their child will suffer when he or she discovers the abortion of their twin?

It also happened that I got into conversation with a fellow customer in a charity shop while on holiday. When she saw that I had my daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, with me, she told me that she had a daughter at home with the same condition, now aged 18; she also had severe behavioural problems which had caused the woman’s husband to have a breakdown. Aged 40 she had got pregnant again, this time with twins; one had miscarried and unable to face the thought of another child (her marriage by this time was on the rocks), she had chosen to abort the other. Clearly she much regretted this but felt she had no option: “What else could I have done?” she asked rhetorically.

Reading about the priests at WYD, and the great gift of the Sacrament of Confession, especially when the conscience is burdened with a grave sin, I thought again of this Welsh woman, the cross she had accepted and the cross she had refused. What could I have said to her by way of consolation, which would have “opened the door to a new life” for her?

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