Cardinal George Pell’s Homily at Memorial Mass for the Unborn

Cardinal Pell, Mass for the unbornSt. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
13 September 2013

We gather together tonight for the second annual Memorial Mass for the Unborn, remembering all those hurt by abortion. We remember the young lives taken so unjustly and the mothers, fathers and families who mourn them. We entrust these little ones to Mary, our Mother, and through her to the merciful heart of God our Father, from whom “every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15).

The 82 candles that we will light this evening will commemorate the unborn children lost to abortion today in New South Wales. Each candle represents one tragic story drawn sometimes from indifferent and uncaring society. A woman’s capacity to bear life is seen too often as a problem and a burden for others, rather than a gift that must be respected and supported. Each candle is a reminder of the neglect on the part of our public authorities and the failure of the law to prevent or even deter this child’s death. But the light that will burn for these children is also a sign of the eternal light of God’s mercy that will shine on them.

The children we mourn tonight were not recognised publicly in life, and their names are known only to God. But through your presence and prayers here tonight, they are recognised in death.

So many women in Australia have been touched by abortion. Each of the 82 children we remember tonight has a mother who needs our love, our prayers and our compassion, not our condemnation.

Because women are the bearers of life, the violation of this relationship of mother and child is a wound that strikes deep into the heart and soul of a woman. Either through selfishness or a misplaced sense of compassion, men, parents and friends involved in abortions have handed many, many women a lifetime legacy of hurt.

I encourage any woman who has been hurt by abortion to contact Rachel’s Vineyard, a confidential ministry of the Catholic Church, through which many women have experienced forgiveness, absolution and healing. The merciful heart of God the Father is always waiting to love and forgive us, to heal our deepest hurts, to restore what has been lost. In the beautiful words of Pope Francis, “God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones.”

For mothers who have undergone abortion, the final resting place of their child’s body is unknown, and this can be a deep source of pain. For this reason, the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Catholic Cemeteries Board have established the Memorial to Unborn Children in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. I hope that this Memorial will continue to be a place of solace and comfort for all those who have a lost a child before birth.

The love and compassion of the Church goes out to every woman facing a pregnancy in difficult or unplanned for circumstances. She understands the tremendous pressures that are often placed on women – whether intentionally or unintentionally – from society, their own families and the fathers of their unborn children. I wish to stress to any woman who is pregnant in difficult circumstances and considering an abortion that the Church cares about you and your baby. We are ready to offer you practical assistance, counselling, friendship and prayer, through our agencies and our parish communities.

We know that men too are often hurt by abortion and grieve the loss of their child, the loss of fatherhood. This grief is compounded by the feeling of helplessness that they were unable to physically protect their child. Not all men involved in abortion are willing actors or abandoners. A survey of university students from the United States revealed that among those students who had experienced abortion, the majority of fathers expressed sadness and regret at the loss of their unborn child.

Philosopher Dr Karen Chan has written critically of an idea increasingly taking hold in our culture – an idea she describes as “intentional motherhood”. “Intentional motherhood” is the belief that a woman must carefully plan and prepare for a pregnancy so that it takes place at “the best possible time”, and that only when she is completely prepared, should she welcome the gift of motherhood. Dr Chan is critical of the way in which this concept increases the vulnerability of women to abortion. Support for her thesis is found in a 2009 study of women’s abortion experiences in Victoria. This study revealed that the reason women gave for choosing abortion in fifty-four per cent of cases was that the pregnancy occurred at “the wrong time”.

There is no doubt that the idea of “intentional motherhood” has made it more and more difficult for women who become pregnant unexpectedly to choose life – because to do so means going against the expectations of society and the powerful cultural narrative of “intentional motherhood”.

It is a great tragedy that those entrusted with the responsibility to defend human life do so little to protect the unborn. The decision recently by the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK not to prosecute two doctors who broke the law by performing selective abortions of unborn baby girls is deeply disturbing. In Australia, we had a Senate inquiry earlier this year into the issue of gender-based abortion, which did not produce any formal recommendations to Parliament. There is a troubling lack of responsibility and willingness on the part of our public authorities to collect any data on abortion. We need a greater preparedness within government to collect information on the reasons why so many women choose abortion if we are to lift the heavy cloak of silence which masks this social tragedy.

There is a culture of silence surrounding abortion. It is my hope that this Mass in some way represents a breaking of this silence. As you mourn these unborn children and pray for their bereaved families, you witness to the truth that humanity is called to stand in “radical solidarity” with the pregnant mother and her unborn child. I pray that your presence and prayers here this evening will echo into the night, calling our men and women in Parliament, those in the legal and medical professions, and our whole community, to face our joint responsibility for the tragedy of abortion, rather than turn away from it.

May the light of the 82 candles that will burn tonight in memory of the little ones lost to abortion evoke the light of Christ, who came to dispel the darkness of our own hearts. May this light console the mothers and fathers who grieve that the souls of their children are held in the infinite love and mercy of God, who desires that all should be saved.

Following the conclusion of Mass, we will place these 82 candles outside the cathedral as a public memorial to the unborn. I pray that their light, shining onto the streets of our city, will remind all men and women of the preciousness of every life, however young. May they recall the words of Christ about children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt 18:10)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.