Vatican Information Service – On Saturday in the Vatican, the Holy Father received 300 participants in an international congress entitled: "Oil on the wounds. A response to the blight of abortion and divorce." The event is being promoted by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus.
Benedict XVI expressed his satisfaction at the participants' focus on the parable of the Good Samaritan in studying questions "which bring so much suffering to the lives of people, families and society". He also recalled how in debating such matters, "often purely ideologically, a kind of conspiracy of silence is created. Only through an attitude of merciful love can we ... bring help and enable victims to rise up again and resume the course of their lives.
"In a cultural context marked by increasing individualism, hedonism and, all too often, by a lack of solidarity and adequate social support," the Pope added, people make "decisions that contrast with the indissolubility of the conjugal bond and with the respect due to human life freshly conceived and still guarded in the maternal womb."
He went on: "Divorce and abortion are, of course, different choices, at times made in difficult and dramatic circumstances. They often give rise to traumas and are a source of profound suffering for the people who make them. ... They leave wounds that mark life indelibly.
"The Church's ethical judgement concerning abortion and divorce is clear and well-known to everyone: 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."
Nonetheless, "the Church, following the example of her divine Master,
always has to deal with real people, especially the weakest and most innocent, ... as well as other men and women who, having perpetrated those acts, are stained with sin and bear its interior wounds while seeking peace and the possibility of rehabilitation.
"The Church", said the Pope, "has the primary duty to approach these people with love and delicacy, with kindness and maternal concern, in order to announce the merciful closeness of God and Jesus Christ. ... Yes, the gospel of love and of life is also always the gospel of mercy" and, "on the basis of this mercy, 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."
"Hence," Pope Benedict went on, "it may be seen that the 'noes' 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."
Turning to consider the consequences of divorce, the Holy Father recommended that pastoral efforts be concentrated on ensuring "that children do not become the innocent victims of conflicts between divorcing parents," and that efforts be made to ensure "as far as possible" the continuity "of the bond with parents and of the relationship with their family and social origins, which are indispensable for well-balanced psychological and human development".
"How much selfish complicity often lies at the roots of a difficult decision that so many women have had to face alone and of which they still have the open wound in their soul!" said Benedict XVI talking of abortion.
Then, echoing John Paul II's words from his Encyclical "Evangelium vitae", he added: "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".
In closing, Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for "all those social and pastoral initiatives which seek the reconciliation and cure of people affected by the drama of abortion and divorce". They are, he concluded, "essential elements in building the civilisation of love of which humanity today has more need than ever."