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Catholic Social Services have a role to play in pregnancy counselling


The Government recently announced its decision to award the Pregnancy Telephone Helpline tender to McKesson Asia Pacific, a private company that intends to subcontract the Catholic Church welfare agency, Centacare Sydney, to help develop an information manual.

In the heated debate that followed the Government’s announcement, a number of public commentators were unrestrained in attacking Catholic social welfare services, and aired the ill-informed view that such services are incapable of providing professional pregnancy counseling, given the Church’s moral and ethical stance regarding abortion.

To suggest that Centacare Sydney should not be involved in this service is to misunderstand the practice of non-directive counselling, mistake the purpose of the Helpline, and mistrust the well-established professionalism of Centacare. One can only hope that this will not discourage women from using the Helpline, an outcome which would, ironically, be 'anti choice'.

While not providing counsellors, Centacare Sydney is well placed to work with McKesson, playing a relatively minor role, along with clinicians from the Caroline Chisholm Society and specialists in obstetrics, psychiatry and sexual health to assist in the development of the Information Manual which will be used by McKesson's trained counsellors. They can do so without compromising either their commitment to the value of human life or their commitment to improve women's access to unbiased and objective information and non-directive counselling.

While the Catholic Church has a clear moral position on abortion, this does not limit its ability to work with those people suffering grief and loss resulting from an earlier abortion.

Catholic agencies can provide counselling which is client-centered and non-directive, and which aims to help an individual come to a decision. This is done by providing emotional support, time and space, so that a woman can make a considered decision that is not motivated by panic.

These counselling services can help a woman to talk through the problem(s) she is facing by examining all options, and their implications. Counselling can also help a woman to clarify her own sense of self in relation to a new problem, and to make reasonable decisions for herself about what she wants now, and in the long term.

And of course existing Catholic services provide information about the availability of emotional and other forms of support.

A client of these counseling services is also made aware of the need to seek medical or other professional services in relation to her pregnancy and encouraged to seek that assistance from her own doctor.

It is understood that it is appropriate that in Australia, where abortion is legally available, that the counsellor discusses this option and provides information about what may be involved, including demonstrated risks and ill-effects. However, referral for medical procedure is done after medical assessment and is not the task of a pregnancy support agency.

People who come to Centacare and other professional Catholic community service organisations for assistance can expect to be met by well qualified, courteous and respectful counsellors and staff who have a genuine and heartfelt desire to work with all people, whatever their needs.

It is common knowledge that Catholic organisations like Centacare cannot advocate, directly refer, or assist in the procurement of abortions. But this Helpline is not an abortion referral service.

As the health minister and McKesson have both made clear, the Helpline will provide professional, non-directive counselling to women, their partners and family members who wish to explore pregnancy options. It will improve the availability of timely, confidential pregnancy counselling, particularly in rural and remote areas, and it will be a source of information regarding the services available to support all pregnant women.

The Church’s opposition to crime does not limit its capacity to support prisoners; its disapproval of divorce does not limit its capacity to support men, women and children going through the pain of separation; its opposition to the abuse of drugs and alcohol does not limit its desire to accompany and support those caught in the traps of addiction.

Through its various welfare services the Church does more than any organisation across Australia to reach out to and treat with dignity and respect people in distressing situations such as these.

Catholic Social Services Australia is the Catholic Church’s national peak body for social services. Its 63 members, including Centacare Sydney, provide social services to over a million Australians each year in metropolitan, regional and remote Australia. Thirty of these members operate under the Centacare banner.

Fr Joseph Caddy is Board Chair of Catholic Social Services Australia and Director of Centacare Melbourne.



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Existing comments

An excellent and well balanced statement.
The anti Catholic comments by certain politicians were ignorant and over the top.

John Tobin | 16 January 2007  

Congratulation to Fr Caddy for putting the case so well. It is very important that our side of the story is strongly defended in the face of attacks designed to intimidate and put us out of business.

The most valuable support offered to a woman with a problem pregnancy is 'unqualified assistance'.

Reports indicate that counselling and assistance offered to women at an Adelaide hospital reduced abortion by some 25%.

Keep up the good work, Father!

Pat Healy | 16 January 2007  

Actually, this article left me more confused than ever! One thing I am not still not sure of is whether Centacare employees are chosen simply on the basis of their professional skill, or if they are expected to support Catholic teaching. If the latter, then perhaps the critics of the Governmemt's decision have a point. No matter how professional or non-judgmental you are, if you accept the official Catholic view: that abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, and that the woman will ALWAYS experience guilt and remorse afterwards, then it is hard to see how you could be completely balanced and objevtive in your approach to this matter. Fr Caddy's comparison with counselling prisoners, drug addicts, etc., wasn't very reassuring either. However compassionate and non-judgmental the counsellor may be, they would presumably not consider a return to crime or to addiction as one of the legitimate options open to the client!

I'm certainly not intending to be critical of Centacare or any similar organisation. I simply find it frustrating that with issues such as abortion, Church leaders seem more intent on asserting their own authority rather than being open to what's really happening in real people's lives.

Cathy Taggart | 16 January 2007  

No body will have a correct/acceptable approach or answer to this issue (abortion). To me this one trascends all personal or institutional views. But I agree with Pat Healy in her sentence "that counselling and assistance offered to women at an Adelaide hospital reduced
abortion by some 25%".
I do believe that pregnancy is about all: women, husbands, family and society.

Support and assistance are some of the key factors to a brave mother (and her baby).

Greetings to you Joe and all the best in this challenging task.

Laura Lungo

Laura Lungo | 30 January 2007  

This is an interesting article from 2007.

Mary | 08 December 2009  

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