Why I don't preach on abortion

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Preaching abortionPreaching is not a highly esteemed activity. When people are accused of preaching they are held to be boring, moralising and bullying. Those qualities presumably were found earlier in sermons preached in church. They may also perhaps be discerned in articles on preaching.

But the questions to which preachers are asked to respond usually have more to do with the subject matter of their sermons than of their style. I am often asked, for example, if I preach on abortion and, if not, why not. The questioners sometimes kindly supply me with the answer. If I do not preach on abortion, it is surely because I am afraid of alienating my liberal friends.

Such questions and imputed answers are quite helpful. They remind us preachers that preaching is not a solitary sin but one in which other people are complicit. They also make us reflect on which topics we choose and avoid, and on why we do so.

The questions put to preachers reflect the fact that sermons are an asymmetrical form of communication. Preachers stand in a hierarchy. They must be licensed by their churches to preach and stand in a position of power over their hearers. During the sermon preachers speak, the people listen and rarely speak back.

So people have a right to expect that the preacher will speak on what matters to them as Christians. If they notice that important matters are never mentioned they are entitled to ask why.

The answer, however, is unlikely to be as simple as that preachers are sucking up to opinionated friends. Most preachers are aware of the feelings that drive them to speak or to be silent. The desire to please or the fear of displeasing one's friends are always evident and can be set aside. As can the desire to placate one's critics. The really insidious temptations are more subtle than that.

For most preachers the choice of topic is guided by the texts of the day and by Augustine's striking throwaway line, 'After all, we would not speak to others unless it were to make them better.' In different contexts 'better' can mean better informed, better diverted, in better spirits, or living a better life. But whatever form of betterment is envisaged, in Augustine's view, conversation and sermons are to be judged by how they affect the audience, and not by the intentions of the speaker.

In sermons to people who are drawn together by faith, the betterment will normally consist in their exploring their faith more deeply, recognising unseen possibilities in it, or finding encouragement in living it. That is normally done by reflecting on the deeper meanings and implications for contemporary life of the scriptural texts set for the day.

As we listen to a sermon we might hope to see the love and power of God at work in the messiness of our lives, and to find courage to live generously in the face of our discontents and the claims made on us by our world.

I find it hard to remember any occasion when a congregation might have been made better by hearing me preach on abortion. Almost all those who attend Catholic services know the teaching of the church on abortion. Most are now too old to have to choose between aborting or bearing a child.

Many women in most congregations, too, would be uncomfortable when hearing a celibate man hold forth on a predicament and pain of which he can have no personal knowledge.

That is not to say that people will not be made better by other forms of conversation about abortion. In a society like ours which holds together such contradictory attitudes to the unborn child, conversation that includes listening to opposed positions is desperately needed.

In church congregations some members may have had abortions, or accompanied one of their children in a decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term. These experiences can be full of pain and inner conflict, shame and guilt. They are better addressed in personal conversation than in sermons.

But even if not directly mentioned such experiences are the straw from which good sermons are formed. They are the stuff of life and the abandoned places that the Gospel needs to touch. The heart of the Christian Good News is that nothing, including the things of which we are most ashamed, broken and guilt-ridden, can in fact separate us from God's love for us.

Any sermon that brings that home would make all of us better. 


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, abortion


 

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Existing comments

"The heart of the Christian Good news is that nothing...etc". What a refreshing distilled idea, often obscured or reversed.

I suppose the other point Andrew's poignant article reminds us is that there is a kind of sterile egotism when we urge people to say things we want to hear, rather than just accepting them and their autonomy and value in saying what they feel they can or need to say. After all, if we already know what it is we want to hear, then why do we need to insist on hearing it?


Stephen Kellett | 08 December 2011


Good. The subjects of the words preached by the Church are heard as expressing the priorities. The laity and the world do not hear so much of the other social and economic teaching of the Church and of Scripture as of matters of sex (partly because the media takes it as the important part of the Church's obsessions.) Yet the weight of its prophetic message is highly relevant to the congregations and our time.
valerie yule | 08 December 2011


Another reason Andrew could be that it is simply no business of yours, it's women's business. It's for each and every woman faced with unwanted pregnancy to decide, in the context of her own circumstances and hopes, what she will do. I'm a woman long past childbearing age and I will always fight for my daughter's and granddaughters' right to make their own decisions.
Anna McCormack | 08 December 2011


Thanks Andrew for your expression of concern for your congregation. Just one small observation,perhaps one can be too limited in their preaching if they only preach on that which they have personal experience of? The preacher's task is to preach the Gospel fearlessly.
David | 08 December 2011


Good article! Two comments.1) Are most of the audience "too old" to even personally have abortion as an issue in their life?? 2) The statement that most will know what the position of the church is. You obviously mean CHURCH, not church=people of God= pilgrim church.
Theo Verbeek | 08 December 2011


Abortion is indeed a polarising issue and discussions/arguments about it can frequently generate more heat than light. I believe your pastoral touch "hits the nail on the head". Thank you.
Patrick Jurd | 08 December 2011


Thank you Andrew,
for sharing your personal reflections with us.
(a good sermon in which to start the day)
peace to you and all your readers.
Anne S | 08 December 2011



"Early in my work at Priests for Life a woman wrote, “I can’t help but think that if twenty years ago I heard a sermon in my Church against abortion, I would have found the strength to keep my baby instead of killing my baby.”

Since then, countless women, as well as men, have said the same. One day after Mass someone said, “Father, I had an abortion, and when I hear it spoken in Church, it does hurt – but please, keep preaching about it, because I gain great comfort in knowing that as a result of that preaching, someone else in the congregation will be spared having to go through all the pain that abortion itself brings.”

Many priests are afraid to preach about abortion, and many of the laity ask me why. Fear, ultimately, is irrational; it is the abandonment of the help that comes from reason.

Yet one of the most frequent answers priests will give to the question of why they don’t address the issue is, “I don’t want to hurt those in the congregation who have had abortions.”

Priests spend years of prayer and effort to develop the compassionate heart of a Good Shepherd, who tends to the wounds of the flock, applies the healing balm of God’s love and mercy, and never does anything to hurt the flock.

But that should lead to preaching about abortion, not silence about it. The reason? Silence hurts the flock. One reason silence hurts is that it does not interpret itself. The priest may indeed have the best of intentions for keeping silent about abortion. But the woman or man sitting in the congregation and suffering from his/her involvement in abortion does not know those intentions. The fact that nothing is said about abortion may lead such a man or woman to conclude one of three things:

a) Father doesn’t know about the pain I have from my abortion;
b) Father knows my pain, but doesn’t care;
c) Father knows and cares about my pain, but there’s no hope. Nothing can be done to heal it.

The fact, however, is that we do know, we do care, and there is hope and healing. Therefore we speak! We speak about abortion, which is devastating individuals and families more than anything else. We speak about its pain, and we extend the urgent invitation to healing, mercy, forgiveness and peace.

Apostolates of Priests for Life like Rachel’s Vineyard (the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion) and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (whereby those who have had abortions and have found healing speak out about it) can assist the priest to convey effectively the message of healing. And then all the rest that we say about abortion will be better accepted, and more will avoid the pain to begin with.

It’s time to flip the fear of preaching about abortion into a fear of what will happen if we don’t."
Fr. Pavone
Trent | 08 December 2011


The unborn in the womb are the most abandoned on our earth at present all the more so as they are invisible asylum seekers on our earth. Why do we pay attention only to visible asylum seekers and not to the invisible ones. There is a time and place for proclamation of the truths of out time. Of course one does not want to ram things down people's throats. But there is a way of saying the truth about the abandoned in the womb and helping their mothers with love.

Last week a group praying outside an abortion clinic touched the hearts of 3 women heading for the abortion clinic and they decided to keep their children. It was the difference between death and life for those children. The praying people offered these women an alternative with love and the women accepted. However their presence at the clinic was a spotlight on the evil that occurs there. Love with truth - or truth with love - that is what is needed.
Skye | 08 December 2011


Andrew seems to feel that abortion is an issue that only affects the pregnant woman. Surely it affects the unborn child? Being informed about the moral issues surrounding abortion takes more than a casual conversation. Can I ask Andrew, what valus is faith if it does not bring about change? Sermons that only serve to put people "in better spirits" are ear tickling, self-serving and impotent expressions of the Gospel. The sacrifice of The Cross deserves a better response from our pulpits.
Robbles | 08 December 2011


Another sensitive piece Andrew. The sense of solidarity with, and compassion for, people who are suffering is very touching, climaxing towards the end.

I hope I don't trivialise the moment by recalling what struck me as the most inappropriate sermon I have listened to. It was in Ipswich, Queensland, in 1942, I think, on the occasion of my confirmation. Archbishop Duhig used the occasion to preach against mothers letting their daughters join the WAAAFs - the women's air force! I can remember being not a little bemused and I don't recall taking anything uplifting or fortifying away from the occasion.
Joe Castley | 08 December 2011


Glad to read it Andrew!
Julie | 08 December 2011


I can understand your reticence Andrew. I have to admit I've never heard a sermon explicitly directed toward *any* particular instance of sin or moral evil. As far as I recall, every sermon I have ever heard has been focused on the themes implicit in the readings of that day.

Though occasionally our contemporary moral evils of choice supply a context to the sermon, or furnish it with examples of sin in our day.

Eg. I've heard on numerous occasions refugees invoked as a contemporary instance of "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Even a brief mention of abortion in similar context would keep the issue in our minds and hopefully in our prayers - prayers for the parents, the children, and the abortionists.

I've heard it asked many times 'what kind of society treats refugees this way?'; and I think we could equally ask what kind of society kills its own children on such a scale. If nothing else, I think it helps us understand more fully how damaged 'the world' is.

(It might be prudent to have contact details for counselling services on hand if you do raise the issue...)
Zac | 08 December 2011


Thank you Andrew for this insight. Perhaps the dislike for preaching from the Christian churches comes from its reliance on moralising according to the interpretation of scriptural writings alive in another time and society, together with the threat of the consequences of straying from the "party line". Very negative and uninspiring!!! Perhaps preachers should rather inspire love, wonder and respect for all that God created, all creatures, all the beauty of the environment in which we live, the universe, the wonderful wide-ranging talents of our fellow men and women. Perhaps then, we would not seek to destroy any of creation and welcome the greatnes of all people because of the wonder of their creation. "He is a dreamer. Always dreaming", my mother used to say. Perhaps she was right!!!
john frawley | 08 December 2011


Thank you Andrew!
Anna McCormack, does the child's father feature at all in your thinking? Surely it is much more than women's business?
Ron | 08 December 2011


December 8. Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Catholic Priest argues why there shouldn't be homilies on abortion. In the state of Victoria, which has just passed the most liberal abortion laws in the world.
HH | 08 December 2011


HH - thanks for that reminder, I had already passed a third of the day without being aware that today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Seriously though, read Andrew's last sentence again: "The heart of the Christian Good News is that nothing, including the things of which we are most ashamed, broken and guilt-ridden, can in fact separate us from God's love for us"

If that sounds true to you, don't you also feel it's implications for how you should treat others, including the unborn?
Russell | 08 December 2011


Some good comments here. I particularly liked Trent's and Zac's.

As for Amma McCormack's: Anna, we all used to be embryos, then foetuses, even celibate priests. Foetuses and embryos are the victims of abortion, and we should all have concern for our fellow humans who are still in the unborn condition.
Gavan Breen | 08 December 2011


By electing not to preach about abortion either to avoid antagonizing the liberal views of the congregation or to please the opinions of friends is ungodly act. The ten commandments are simple and square "thou shall not kill". They neither explain nor expound. As a result, preachers should often preach against abortion (Killing) simple and clear without explaining or expounding. The circumstances that lead to abortion however, must be addressed separately because they neither justify death nor do God commandment recognize them.
Hillan Nzioka | 08 December 2011


A very articulate and emphathetic essay
Jan | 08 December 2011


"Many women in most congregations, too, would be uncomfortable when hearing a celibate man hold forth on a predicament and pain of which he can have no personal knowledge." Surely this doesn't really mean priests must have personal knowledge of something to preach? By that reckoning sermons touching on marriage, family, the challenges of raising children would also be out. It seems to me Fr Andrew is inadvertently buying into the secular notion that this is "women's business". But it's not just mothers who are affected by this choice, but also these babies' fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters... I like Zac's suggestion of the passing mention. In the same way as the Christian call to welcome the stranger is often related back to asylum seekers, it wouldn't be too hard to find themes that touch on the most vulnerable and voiceless in our midst. In fact, Fr Andrew's second last sentence is precisely the kind of theme that would lend itself to such a passing mention of abortion, framed in terms of God's limitless love and forgiveness for those who come to Him with true sorrow in their hearts.
Meg | 08 December 2011


Russell, St Paul is saying that nothing external to us can separate us from Christ's love for us. But he also makes it clear, as I'm sure you're aware, that we can separate ourselves from Him by mortal sin. And one of those sins is murder. Some people forget that the Church's moral teaching, confronting as it is to all of us one way or another, is actually a constitutive element of the Good News. Anyway, Happy Feast Day.
HH | 08 December 2011


Having read an extraordinarily sensitive article, and some beautifully nuanced responses something is still troubling me here. Yes we all 'know' in our minds what the Church teaches about abortion. And we may, or may not, be entirely convinced in our minds that this teaching admits of no exceptions. But I am reasonably sure that almost no one in the wider community thinks that abortion is good.It is at best a choice of evils, even a 'necessary evil'. If the Church truly wants to come out fromn behind the barricades and speak to its conviction that there is always a better choice than abortion, and to do its best to ensure the availability of that better choice, then it seems to me that we need the likes of Andy Hamilton to say so. Just a thought.Though from somewhere nearer the heart than the mind...
Margaret | 08 December 2011


Another question said to have been put to a preacher: how long does it take you to prepare a sermon? Answer: five minutes and a lifetime. Further question: and how long does it take you to deliver it? Answer, for sermons on subjects like that of abortion: take away the number in my first answer. And the preacher is out there with others where the pastoral issue of unwanted pregnancies is.
Noel McMaster | 08 December 2011


I like the last paragraph very much. I also very much appreciated Zac's comment. I also feel discomfort at voicing my pro-life views in certain fora. Sometimes people infer a lot of other values or belief from a pro-life stance. The lack of compassion some prominent pro-lifers exhibit is something I wish not to be associated with. But when a close friend (with no religious belief) was trying to determine whether to continue with a complex pregnancy, or to terminate, she sought advice which I offered gently. I also offered emotional support and practical support for when the baby arrived. She continued with the pregnancy and there's another life in the world, and she is grateful for her decision to continue. If we are serious about preventing abortion, we should do everything to ensure that the mother is supported in every way so that having a baby provides a positive vision for the future which helps her make a pro-life decision.
MBG | 08 December 2011


I wonder how I'd feel if an Anglican woman priest (or perhaps even Bishop, soon!) preached about abortion? (I'm not Anglican as such, but sometimes go along as a good agnostic should, largely because of the higher status of women in that Church, as opposed to others.) At least she'd have the right stuff. She might even have been pregnant, and know what that is like, physically and mentally. This would give her words a little more piquancy, even though I do not believe you need to experience something to speak about it. (We'd mostly fall silent about refugees, or Aboriginal rights, if that were the case.) But I would certainly not sit quietly and listen to a man talk about women's bodies and what God allegedly has to say about them.
Penelope | 08 December 2011


Margaret wrote, "But I am reasonably sure that almost no one in the wider community thinks that abortion is good."

I completely agree. I remember vividly when I was about ten, asking my mother what an abortion was. She told me and the whole concept was completely anathema to me. Why would anyone want to destroy their own child, however unformed? While life and maturity has helped me understand the perspective of others, that reaction still remains when I am confronted with others' stories.

Lately I was reminded also when my own child asked what an abortion was and I explained; my child was incredulous ... I would hazard a guess that such a response is not uncommon, particularly if one has been raised to consider and respect the rights of others.

It's a tragedy that while we make progress in other aspects of human rights, this is one area where rights are not considered for those in-utero (and anomalous, considering recent changes to law in relation to unborn children who are wanted).
MBG | 08 December 2011


"Abortion" has become a "litmus test issue" for that small segment of the population who constantly need to assure themselves that they know God's law and, self-evidently, all these "heathen in society" who are having abortions do not. I suggest the people who ask priests and bishops why they do not preach on abortion would be overwhelmingly drawn from that segment of the population.

I suggest a big reason why a lot of priests and bishops do not speak on the subject is because they simply do not believe in the "take" on abortion as perceived by that small segment of the population. If they endeavoured to preach on the subject and nuance it in any way they would very soon be "reported" to their bishops or some higher authority. The "safe" option is to simply never raise the matter in any public communication and just leave it to the Pope, or the ultraconservative elements in the priesthood, to take up any public running on this subject.

Abortion is not the only subject that is treated like that these days. There are a whole raft of important issues that the vast majority of priests, bishops and even just ordinary Catholic teachers today are afraid to raise in public lest they be "reported". As they see in the case of what happened to even a person at the rank of bishop in Bill Morris they know there is nobody will come to their defence if they are reported. The "safe" option is to zip one's mouth on this raft of issues today that are contentious or which have been elevated to the status of "litmus tests of faith or Catholicity" that only fools and the nutters dare to speak of publicly.

Today we have a Church which has effectively been "reduced to silence" across a whole raft of critical issues the broad population would love to see priests and bishops talking about courageously. The reality today, is that the culture of Catholicism today militates against it and that culture has been encouraged from the very top over the last forty years by JPII and BXVI. It is not going to be eradicated except by a change of culture coming from the very top of the institution. The vast majority of the baptized can rail against this culture all they like but that might be likened to the German people, the Polish people, or all the people across Eastern Europe railing against the dictators who had taken over their countries in the first part of the twentieth century.

Brian Coyne | 08 December 2011


I think the word Homily is better than Preaching: something that hits home base (a sermon that can strike a chord) on a topic of great importance.

Andrew considering the age of your congregation perhaps a sermon on bioethics would be useful, especially on the question of euthanasia.
Abortion is discussed extremely well in National Catholic Reporter (November 11, 2011). The article discusses Mercy Sr. Margaret McBride who was a member of the ethics committee at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. She made a judgment that brought down excommunication from the Church. The responses from the readers (including Catholic doctors) were amazing and well worth reading.
See: http://ncronline.org/node/27508



Trish Martin | 08 December 2011


Andrew it's a pity you dont preach on abortion. Your words as a priest would be highly respected.You in fact deprive your parishioners much needed help in acting, together with others, to be rid of or stem this thing called "abortion" which means the intentional killing of an infant in the womb. And indeed by refusing to speak about abortion the people you seem to think you protect still suffer but do so in silence.

I know. I have been a post abortion grief counsellor for 15 years and have many stories to tell. Also stories of "going to church" and never having heard the "A" word spoken by a priest.Must be one similar to you.
In a society like we have where abortion in Victoria is legal to 40 weeks, you say you dont preach on abortion? thats why its the way it is because of such thought. Who was it that said something about evil will prevail when good men (and women) do nothing? Well we have abortion to 40 weeks and you read an incidence 2 weeks ago,(32 weeker) because "good men" (and women) did nothing.

Anne Lastman | 08 December 2011


"Many women in most congregations, too, would be uncomfortable when hearing a celibate man hold forth on a predicament and pain of which he can have no personal knowledge' Really fr Hamilton? Would this response hold against public lectures by male unmarried doctors,psychologists etc {in fact they cant experience such pain either] Where is your scientific survey data corroborating there are "many women in most congregations uncomfortable......" or is this ivory tower wishful thinking?? Don't say it is anecdotal based hypothesis-one should not extrapolate from a possible 'some' to definite "many" and "most" Fr Hamilton unrepentant mortal sin in these matters separates from god unto eternity if not repented of- not forgetting automatic excommunication on earth. Sermons can remind the congregation of the 'abortocaust' world wide including Australia[we know the tragedy of concentration camp chaplains etc silent on holocaust for fear of causing distress in perpetrators[though some perpetrators as shown in Nuremberg/Dachau and Frankfurt trials were forced to join in [lessening guilt of course] Of course, sermons on abortion require compassionate frames of reference but burning attention is needed-would one keep silence on pedophilia because the highest incidence of such is in families and eg in usa it is endemic in public schools? Would one shrink from preaching such because parent pedophiles or family pedo friends might be in most congregations and uncomfortable? Surely, abortion infanticide is as gruesome as pedophilia-SO WHY "COVER UP" LEST PRPETRATORS BE STRESSED OUT??!!!
Father John Michael George | 08 December 2011


Brian Coyne, I have been speaking about abortion and post abortion issues for 15 years through rain and shine in season and out of season and yes I do agree with you that it is not "safe" to speak out and write about abortion but it has to be done. We will all be called to account why 50 million infants a year die and we sit in our comfortable loungerooms and pontificate in privacy on computers. Some of us DO speak out against abortion and other injustices but it needs to be said that having good leaders (e.g) priests, bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Popes helps. Being stymied by Archbishops and bishops and not supported also is counter productive.

And Brian the first and most important "right" is the right to be born and unless this right is upheld none of the others matter because in time they will also fall.

We (society) didnt fight the demon "abortion" when it took control in the late 60s early 70s and look where it has landed us as a society with no respect for life and if there is no respect for life why would you expect respect for anything else.
Anne Lastman | 08 December 2011


Mmmm. Andrew - do you honestly think people experiencing "inner conflict, shame and guilt" are likely to ever have that "personal conversation" with you or any priest? Sermons are meant to preach the true teaching of the church on all issues, especially those that are relevant to what people the world are currently divulging in and focussing on. They do not need to assume the congregation are guilty or of the relevant age for these matters. Unfortunately many such issues really are avoided for fear of rocking the boat.... Does anyone remember why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed? Is that relevant now?
Mary | 08 December 2011


"They are better addressed in personal conversations than in sermons".
This issue is a deeply personal one and therefore the above sentence conveys your sensitivity and compassion towards those affected by abortion, be they men or women. Thank you Andrew.
Pam | 08 December 2011


I would think a sermon on abortion would be helpful.The priest could talk on how everything can be forgiven by God and the availability of services such as Rachel's Vineyard etc. Some people might like to confess that they had an abortion or were party to one and hearing the priest speak with compassion on the issue could help them make the step to go to confession. Saying that most of the women in the congregation are too old to get pregnant and therefore there is no point in talking about the topic is not a thought through statement. OLder women are often instrumental in advising /pushing younger women to have abortions.

We have a study by Professor Fergusson who is a pro choice atheist, and he found that post abortive women are more likely to be depressed, anxious abuse drugs and alcohol than women who carry their pregnancies to term. This information could be shared with the congregation and the priest could make the point that he and the church knows that many women ( and [people who were party to an abortion regret it and have suffered deeply) and perhaps deter someone who is considering an abortion from going through with it.
Catherine | 08 December 2011


I have been amazed that we hear very little from the pulpit about abortion. I believe that history will record this era of abortion in horror at the thought of destroying life at its very beginning. I wish sometimes we could hear a sermon that would wake us up to the fact that morality generally in this 21st century has gone missing.
Patricia | 08 December 2011


It is true, that over the last 50 years many Bishops and priests have been reluctant to mention hell, purgatory and abortion in their sermons. But Thank God, now we have muscular Cardinals, Bishops and priests who do inform Christ's Faithfull that "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person-among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life" (CCC2270). The good news is that muscular Christians Bishops will be appointed to future vacant dioceses.
Ron Cini | 08 December 2011


Like: Andrew
Like: Brian Coyne
SK | 08 December 2011


Anna McCormack.... what if one of your daughters made the decision to abort one of your granddaughters? You say you would never want to impede their right to choose, would you assist your daughter or granddaughter in their decision to terminate a member of your family? I see some moral problems with your logic. "Choice" is not a virtue in and of itself. It should never be upheld as being more important than the person(s) who are subject to another person's 'choice'.
Cate | 08 December 2011


In my experience, many priests do some of their most effective work sitting with the kids at the kitchen table whilst dinner is being prepared. It is a great shame that more families don't see the priest as a member of their family, not someone special who must be given something different from the norm, but someone who takes what he finds when he is invited to share a meal.
I have seen brilliant work on very difficult subjects done in this situation.
I am aware that this invitation has sometimes been abused but I would hope that parents of today are now vigilant enough to avoid that danger.
Margaret McDonald | 08 December 2011


I'm going to stick my neck out and question the courage of the Jesuits when it comes to the abortion issue. The Jesuits wade into all sorts of controversial issues, but not abortion. I was actually surprised to see an article on Eureka Street, critical of the abortion of the 32 week old twins. I have great respect for the Jesuits, and their history of confronting injustice - and often paying with their lives - but I wonder if they need to reconsider the soft approach they take with the abortion issue. (I'm not necessarily saying it requires more 'preaching from the pulpit', but entering into the dialogue and engagement with those in government)
Cate | 08 December 2011


I can't help feeling that some of your readers have missed the point Andrew. It seems to me that this article is not about ABORTION, as some have read it, but about preaching as an instrument for mediating the comfort of God to us. And what a lovely piece it is too.
Hugo Dillon | 08 December 2011


You are an intelligent man, Andrew. You are able to write lots of articles without offending people, so why can't you preach about abortion without giving offence from the pulpit? If you are a person of compassion, and I think you are, you should be able to handle all of the challenges of preaching about such a sensitive subject as abortion. But you will need to be a person of courage, and only you can know whether you are that. You are a preacher who says he won't preach, so here's my three-word homily, just for you: 'Qui tacet consentire'. Remember it.
jpfawkner@gmail.com | 08 December 2011


Andrew, While I see the sense of what you say, particularly for young people, if they come into a Cahtolic Church and their questions aren't even raised let alone answered, they'll go looking for them in other places - probably gazing into the shallow pool of facebook friendship. Maybe personal conversations are the place to complete the personal answer, but failing to make the pulpit the place to begin the discussion makes it irrelevant.
Matthew MacDonald | 09 December 2011


Yes, I think Hugo Dillon has hit the nail on the head: this article was not about abortion, but about expectations and the prudential scope of preaching and perhaps the underlying idea that as mediators, priests are called to heal. Ironically it has ended up flushing out of the woodwork all those very same people who clamour to insist that priests mouth the script they would have them utter, or alternatively, if failing to do so, insist they suffer their various condemnations. Didn't the scribes and Pharisees always try to entrap Jesus? The way I see it, a pastor is entitled to use his or her prudential judgment in how and what they preach, otherwise why not simply distribute the Gospels to the congregation and have them read a chapter quietly to themselves? Come to think of it, that’s probably not such a bad idea. Though, since the Gospels are amazingly silent on a whole range of things, I guess even that would not satisfy some who apparently only want to speak, read and hear about a solitary issue in the terms of their own emotions.
Stephen Kellett | 09 December 2011


In Fiji, my Catholic next-door neighbour told me she and others planned to carry out an abortion on her niece that afternoon. I agonised. Should I interfere? I told her she was about to commit the sin of murder for which she would answer to God. Later she told me she called off the abortion and a fine baby boy was the result. I suppose he is still living. Fr Andrew could well save lives.
FRANK MOBBS | 09 December 2011


SK & Hugo D, come on, play fair. Not one of the pro-life posters above critical of Fr H's piece is debating abortion per se, except insofar as the issue was raised by a pro-choicer and needed addressing. The pro-lifers critical of Fr H are testing his argument as to why he won't preach on abortion - the title of the piece after all - and finding it doesn't stack up.
HH | 09 December 2011


Using the same logic then you should not preach on theft, bullying, exploiting one's employees, assault (sexual or otherwise), adultery, pride, conceit, self-righteousness, failing to attend Mass on sundays without grave reason, or any other way in which men fail to love God and their neighbour. Because quite likely there will be people in the congregation who have committed those sins and who might feel pain, discomfort, guilt and shame on being reminded of them. How about instead of trying to give the people what they want to hear, you give them what the Church teaches, that is what they NEED to hear.
PETER KENNEDY | 09 December 2011


Trent's quotation from Fr Pavone provides a good balance to Andrew's excellent statement of why he does not preach on abortion. Surely every person licensed, and we hope qualified, to preach has to make this decision for their congregation and for themselves. There should be no over-riding "Thou shalt ..." governing sermons on abortion or any other topic. However we can all have our wish-lists. I know the homily is not the central part of the Mass, but it is the only part of the Mass in which the priest has the opportunity to appeal to the mind more than to the spirit of his congregation. While I cannot quote statistics to support my impression, I am sure that more people would attend Sunday Mass if sermons were better prepared and better presented. The liturgy provides ample time for spiritual contemplation through the repetition of formulaic prayer and ceremonial movement. The sermon could be a time for mental reflection if it was grasped as an opportunity to inform, challenge, and mentally engage the congregation. Sadly, it is so often just 15 - 20 minutes of pious platitudes which neither induce contemplation nor engage the mind.
Ian Fraser | 09 December 2011


I think the holy-rolling do-gooders who think they have a reserved seat at the right hand of the Father need to be preached to. We all know the church rules, but how many people can honestly say they contribute to a caring church/parish community which would be in a position to support a woman in such a desperate situation to be considering an abortion?
How about priests preach to the self righteous men and women throwing the stones? Tell them to get off their soapboxes and get out there and find out who may be in need of support and who may be suffering.
AURELIUS | 09 December 2011


Andrew's article was a carefully reasoned explanation of why he thinks it less than efficacious to preach on a particular topic. It deserved some reasoned responses. Instead, he got the usual crop of 'don't confuse me with facts I've made up my mind therefore you must be wrong' responses. There appears to be very little attempt to understand what Andrew has written or why. Shouting dogma at other people while one has ones fingers in one's ears must be the least effective way of changing their minds.
Ginger Meggs | 09 December 2011


As neat a piece of self-deception as I ever came across. There must be quite a few injustices that Andrew is unable to preach against, lest he call people to repentance and conversion. I image he would have had to excuse himself if he had been in the position of having slave owners in his congregation. After all, what would he, a non-slave owner, know about the economic necessities of slavery? Did someone mention empathy? Yes, for all who may be troubled, except our young brothers and sisters who never see the light of day. What a deluded man! For shame! Have you prepared an argument for them, Andrew, when you meet them?
Matthew Dewar | 09 December 2011


No. The fact is that the great majority of the Catholic populace NEVER hear in the context of the normal contact with the teaching Church what the truth is in these moral matters. The numbers of Catholics who procure abortions, undertake IVF, use contraceptives tells you that something is missing.

Nor does the mammoth Catholic Education aparatus provide any grounding on these issues.


Peter in Canberra | 09 December 2011


This priest is really out of touch with ordinary Catholics if he thinks that "Almost all those who attend Catholic services know the teaching of the church on abortion." Forty years of silence in the pulpit (which is the only place most Catholics hear anything on their faith all week) has meant most Catholics are confused, unsure, not convinced or have even adopted what the wider pagan society believes - as the range of Comments above proves. I have heard a priest preach with sensitivity and tact, reminding people that God's mercy is available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation if they have had or arranged or performed an abortion. That is a positive message that people need to hear in church. The concern about what women think of celibate men speaking on this - is simply an excuse, cowardice disguised as concern. Most priests have had no experience of theft or drunkenness or sex addictions - must they therefore be silent on those issues? The priest must preach the truth in season and out of season. He does not aim to be unpopular, but must be prepared to be unpopular - which is nothing to being persecuted & tortured for our faith, as many Catholics have had to do. Let us preach the Gospel of life.
Christopher Boyce | 09 December 2011


The problem, Andrew, is that abortion is not just one of many social justice issues and the moral law against it is not just one of many Church teachings. Abortion is far and away the most urgent moral issue in our society. Innocents are being murdered by the millions, premeditated and in cold blood. We rightly condemn those of the German clergy who failed to speak out against persecution of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled. Even though those clergy who did so ended up in the death camps themselves.

How can a 21st century Australian priest remain silent on abortion when the worst consequences he is likely to face for speaking up are merely social ostracism and verbal abuse?
PETER KENNEDY | 09 December 2011


Perhaps a conversation with some of the Sisters of Life who work with pregnant women and postabortive women would shed light on how best priests could approach this issue from the pulpit.Women need to be SUPPORTED to have their babies snd women and men who have been involved in abortion need to know the mercy of God through programs like Project Rachael. This difficult issue must be faced with much prayer , wisdom and love and truth -
colleen | 11 December 2011


To CHRISTOPHER BOYCE: I think you have answered your own query about Andy's stance.
You said, "Most priests have had no experience of theft or drunkenness or sex addictions - must they therefore be silent on those issues?"

I have never heard a priest preach on theft - it's obvious that is wrong whether you are a Christian or an atheist.

Sex addiction? Well that's not necessarily a moral issue - it's a mental health issue and can happen within the context of even a faithful relationship.

Drunkeness? Well should the priest advise total abstinence? Or maybe advise on the number of drinks permisable per week?

Abortion? We all know killing human life is wrong whether we are Christians, Muslims or secular atheists. Why do we need our priests to tell us?
AURELIUS | 12 December 2011


Can you possibly imagine any of the saints or Apostles, much less our Saviour Himself, refusing to speak out publicly against a particular grave sin, for fear of being accused of being "intolerant", "hurtful", "irrelevant", "offensive", "not inclusive", "sexist", "making people feel guilty or ashamed" or "interfering in matters of which he has no personal knowledge"?

Can you imagine any of them instead "listening to opposed positions" which claim that the sin in question is no sin at all? Or endorsing the acts of those who "accompanied one of their children in a decision" to sin? I sure can't.
PETER KENNEDY | 12 December 2011


A wonderful essay. Thank you. And thank you for the sometimes forgotten reminder that "nothing, including all the things of which we are most ashamed, broken and guilt-ridden can separate us from God's love." In response to Mary - Yes, of course it's true that some who painfully acknowledge their shame over abortion never lose their sense of "inner conflict" despite earlier confession. And, not everyone feels able to have that "personal, consoling talk with a priest.
Mary Maraz | 12 December 2011


This a heartwarming article by Andrew Hamilton, indicating his sensitivity to an issue which others, less understanding, can glibly pass judgment. Thank you, Andrew, for reminding us of the depth of God's love for us.
Maureen Strazzari | 13 December 2011


My deepest gratitude and appreciation, Andy, for your very finely drawn disquisition on the role of the priest in the pulpit. While this may sound harsh to some of those above, it put me in mind of John Steinbeck's account of Jim Casy in 'The Grapes of Wrath', and helps explain why no topic associated with human relationship breakdown, such as abortion ultimately is, warrants addressing, other than in the context of counselling, otherwise all it does, in my view, is to assuage the personal guilt or other existential crisis of the forthright pulpiteer.
Michael Furtado | 14 December 2011


Woman at the well, woman being stoned, Mary Magdalene...Christ honoured women and went against the civil and cultural mores to give them a sense of dignity. Matthew Fox revealed Christ's message as COMPASSION. So radical. So embracing. Women have been made responsible for all failings and problems around sexuality.We still have inequality in wages and opportunity.We have economic pressures today as of old ..single and married working - mothers, with social welfare and contraception in recent time allowing choice. Women are natural custodians. They are keepers of ancient natural healing and wisdom from shared experience. Men have their wisdom too, but must concede some things.We need to respect each gender more. To use all humanity's gifts is a way to heal and flourish. No woman would ever consider abortion lightly.
Catherine | 14 December 2011


Hi Fr Andrew, I came across your article and I just wanted to say that although I understand your sentiments, I respectfully disagree with them. I recently met regular Mass-going Catholic's who were seriously considering an abortion. Thankfully they changed their minds at the last minute, but I can't help but think that if we came together as a Catholic Community, talked openly about the pain of abortion and the reality that abortion is in fact the taking of a life created by God, we could do great things. Please read this link about what one priest has done in his community and how his Trust in God has had a profound effect on the abortion rate in his zip-code. So inspiring! http://www.hliamerica.org/truth-and-charity-forum/abortion-according-to-zip-codes/ We know abortion is a reality in our Society today, but like things that have been acceptable in the past but no longer, we have to have hope, and encourage others to have hope. We have an obligation before God to help families in a crisis pregancy, or help families see that there is forgiveness. The life of just one person is worth more than the whole world to God... let us not be discouraged by anything for if we trust in Him alone and uphold the Truth, we don't have anything to fear. All the best Fr.
Melissa White | 15 December 2011


From the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995) by Pope John Paul II: 78. ... “Evangelization is an all-embracing, progressive activity through which the Church participates in the prophetic, priestly and royal mission of the Lord Jesus. It is therefore inextricably linked to preaching, celebration and the service of charity... This is also the case with regard to the proclamation of the Gospel of life, an integral part of that Gospel which is Jesus Christ himself.” 82. “To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity.”... etc, etc.
HH | 15 December 2011


Catherine, what are you trying to say? That priests should not go against the civil and cultural mores to urge people to respect the dignity of all human beings, even the smallest and weakeast, and not murder them because no woman would lightly consider murdering them? No matter how long a deeply someone considers before committing amurder, murder is always gravely wrong. Christ honoured the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman about to be stoned, and Mary Magdalene, by telling them plainly that what they had done was wrong. And the driving force in the majority of decisions to commit an abortion is a man.
PETER KENNEDY | 17 December 2011


From the perspective of my own parish church (in an inner city suburb of Brisbane) I can well appreciate that a sermon on abortion might not be appropriate as it probably would not be fully comprehended by the elderly congregation. I usually sit at the back of the church at the 6pm Saturday night Mass. I always count the congregation in front of me. The numbers on my side of the church rarely exceed 20. There are usually just as many on the other side of the church.Very few of the congregation are probably under 60 years of age. Accordingly it is not really surprising that our parish priest (who has been with us for over 10 years) has never delivered a sermon on abortion - and probably never will!
Jeffery Cornelius | 23 December 2011


Is that to say that preachers should never mention any sin? My son has gone to the Baptist Church to hear just such sermons i.e. to be told what is black and what is white so to speak. You don't have to stand in condemnation of the congregation to urge a greater respect for life from conception to natural death and if we are not working to achieve that end in society, then we are not doing our job. People of all ages hate wishy washy, vague requests to live a good life - we want it spelt out and many people need to hear it spelt out - what to do and what we must not do. I think that the line between black and white is being surely eroded by the liberalists and the ignorant e.g. that 'gay marriage' is not going to hurt anyone so why not let them get married. Not true; and it needs to be spelt out why by the preacher/priest i.e. the effect on all society, especially children. We must avoid the sin of presumption - that God will tolerate anything because of love. He won't.
helen | 04 January 2012


So tell me Andrew. When infanticide becomes fashionable as it surely will you be preaching your gospel of apathy? The very streets cry out with the blood of the innocents and you pontificate about staying out of the way. Unbelievable.
Chris O'Brien | 11 June 2012


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