Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Deacon Mike Caldwell leads retreats for men and women emotionally and spiritually wounded by abortion.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Deacon Mike Caldwell leads retreats for men and women emotionally and spiritually wounded by abortion.
In 2008, Mike Caldwell was about to be ordained a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. But something was jamming his spiritual growth and he couldn't identify it.

Then, in a gush, he realized he had never grieved for the child he had lost years before. Nor had he atoned for standing by weakly as death came.

In his 20s, before he joined the church, Caldwell's girlfriend had become pregnant. She told him she would "take care of it." He let her.

"A young man with the standards of this world would say he'd dodged a bullet," says Caldwell, now 61 and serving at St. Joseph the Worker Parish and Catholic Charities. "Now I know I lost a child."

He and his girlfriend wed. As is frequent in post-abortive relationships, the marriage did not last long.  

Caldwell's life did come together. He wed again 32 years ago. He and wife Linda have three children. He joined the church. After 25 years at Bonneville Power Administration, he retired and began formation in the diaconate. It was during his spiritual logjam that he learned about Project Rachel, a Catholic Charities ministry for those — women and men — wounded in mind and spirit by abortion. After making his confession and attending a Rachel's Vineyard retreat, his life flowed more freely.  

"Abortion is legal, but interiorly, we know it's wrong," Caldwell says. "The pro-abortion people will say it's guilt imposed by society. But that's not true. It comes from inside. It leaves people in a place where they can't find peace."

Caldwell now helps lead the weekends.  

"Abortion always has an impact on people's lives, even if they're not aware of it," says Lori Eckstine, who has directed Project Rachel for a decade. "It alters us negatively because it's contrary to the way we were created."

Coping mechanisms can work for awhile, but in the long term, Eckstein says, post-abortive people find it challenging to live a full, joyful life.

"It dominates people's lives," she explains. "It enters marriage and how they relate in to people of the opposite sex." Many never have children or enter relationships.

"They were trying to make the abortion a non-event, but it's something they have been carrying with them wherever they went," says Eckstein.  

The largest demographic getting help from Project Rachel are women in their 40s and 50s. Those are the ages when people wonder how their children would have turned out as adults.

Tamra Johnson is a Catholic convert and attends Holy Rosary Parish. She had an abortion at 14. A successful student and athlete, she was teased at school. She came to feel like a “bad girl.” School became painful and she quit sports and became promiscuous. “I felt worthless,” she recalls. At age 18, Johnson attempted suicide. Healing and acceptance came through a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.

“John Paul II once said that we are the walking wounded,” Johnson told the Sentinel. “My abortion affected everyone in my life.”

Men also suffer from abortion. That was the case for Graham Rintoul of Oregon City. He carried his secret for 32 years before attending a Rachel's Vineyard retreat in 2007.

Rintoul, 22 at the time, drove his 19-year-old girlfriend to the abortion clinic in 1975 and paid for the procedure. He didn't realize it, but the deed stuck with him.  

"You get over a hangover," he says. "You get over your team not winning the championship. You don't get over killing your child."

After his first marriage ended, Rintoul married again and returned to church. He stopped drinking. At 59, he has what he calls "bonus children" from his wife's earlier marriage. There are grandchildren, too. He's happy, but knows he's always need to deal with his misdeed.

"There is no do-over," he says. "You can't rewind. You have played a part in killing your child."  

Eckstein says it is possible for post-abortive people to heal. For starters, Project Rachel gives them a compassionate ear.  

"The biggest door they go through is the door of hope," she says. "They can say they believe in a God who forgives, but it hasn't gone to their core yet, where they really experience it. They have to be able to set down that armor. The retreat allows them to do that. They begin to feel Jesus."

— Nina Rhea contributed to this report.