GREENVILLE —The witness was a powerful and riveting one.
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The St. Philip Parish hall fell absolutely silent as a priest who has long ministered to those who have sought support in the wake of an abortion relayed some of the experiences he has had counseling men and women who have made the ultimate decision to end the life of a child they created.
Father John E. Watterson, spoke about the nearly 15 years he has served as chaplain of the diocesan Human Life Guild’s Rachel’s Vineyard Project — a post-abortive support program — as well as his experiences as a military chaplain.
“It’s a different type of ministry,” the battle-tested chaplain noted, beginning his remarks Saturday at the 8th annual diocesan Human Life Guild Day, an event designed to educate attendees about the latest life-related issues, as well as provide an overview of pastoral care programs available for women and families.
While serving as a military chaplain at the Pentagon, Father Watterson counseled soldiers in his command who had decided to let a doctor take the life of their unborn child.
One soldier told Father Watterson she was a virgin when she was raped and became pregnant.
Rather than have the baby, she requested to be transferred out of the military hospital to another, where an abortion could be performed. Despite Father Watterson’s repeated pleas for her to reconsider her decision, the soldier went through with the procedure.
The soldier would later greet Father Watterson with a look of astonishment on her face when he visited her in the other hospital following the procedure.
She was shocked that despite what she had done, a priest would still be willing to offer her a path to the Lord.
Father also spoke of an interaction he had during one of the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats in the diocese with a young schoolteacher from another state who came to Providence to have an abortion at the urging of her boyfriend after she had become pregnant.
Following the abortion, and to the young woman’s surprise, she never saw her boyfriend again.
“When you are closely involved in the taking of human life, there is pain,” Father Watterson observed from his experiences.
Father Watterson, who is retired from active ministry, has served as chaplain for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, where he has received many compliments for his kind, caring and compassionate manner, according to Carol Owens, director of Life and Family Ministry for the diocese.
It is through his extensive experiences that Father Watterson has found that the men involved in relationships leading to an abortion are not held nearly as accountable as the women are.
“I think men are just as much a cause of abortions as women are,” he said.
“Catholic mothers and fathers need to teach their boys to respect girls.”
Prior to the speaking program, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin celebrated Mass at St. Philip Church, sharing in his homily, “Defending and promoting the sanctity of human life continues to be the great moral challenge of our age.”
He said that the defense of life is not just a political movement; rather, it transcends state and national boundaries.
“This is, for us, as God’s people an act of faith,” he said.
During the Mass, the bishop presented the Pro Vita et Dignitate Humana — For Life and Human Dignity award — to Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Warwick) for his loyal support of legislative issues that respect human life and dignity.
Sen. McCaffrey, who serves as a lector at St. Benedict Church, Warwick, attended the Mass along with his wife Deidre, and the youngest of their four children, also named Deidre, 9.
“It’s certainly a great honor to be awarded,” Sen. McCaffrey said, noting how his faith plays an important role in the decisions he makes.
“There are definitely interests out there that are trying to change traditional values,” he said.
Father Bernard A. Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, introduced Sen. McCaffrey before he received his award. He noted that the senator had recently won a hard fought primary election in which “a massive effort by special interest groups seeking to redefine marriage and expand abortion spent thousands of dollars trying to oust Sen. McCaffrey.”
Father Healey thanked the Catholic parishes in Warwick for providing accurate and non-partisan voter information during the election.
Also receiving Human Life Guild awards for their service were Julie Lamin and James Parkin.
“I feel blessed to be a part of this work. I give the glory to God,” said Lamin, who serves as regional coordinator for Silent No More, a program that educates the public about the pains of abortion. Lamin has also served for several years on the Rachel’s Vineyard team.
Parkin has been involved with the Human Life Guild for the past 25 years, the last eight of those helping to educate people about the harm of abortion from his base at St. James Chapel in Carolina.
“It’s a very sensitive issue politically, but I’m not afraid,” he said of his outspoken efforts to stop abortion.
Father Healey, who also serves as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church, East Greenwich, encouraged those in attendance to become as active in upholding Catholic values when voting and when seeking information about candidates for political office.
Father Healey reminded the audience that the church does not endorse candidates, but it is up to the laity to put their faith into action on the political realm. He noted that the RI Catholic Conference serves to educate Catholics about candidates’ positions on public policy issues including abortion, religious freedom, the defense of marriage, fighting poverty and more.
“Speaker Fox has announced that there will be a vote in the House on gay marriage in the next legislative session,” Father Healey said. He asked the members of the Human Life Guild to ask candidates in their area where they stood on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
“If you want to change the culture politically, you need to be involved politically,” he said.