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Inside the Minds of Priests on the Abortion Issue

ve8QAd   |   October 01, 2002

As we approach the 30th anniversary of abortion-on-demand, some pro-lifers have expressed a frustration that unborn babies are still being killed, even though the numbers are decreasing. What would help end this modern day holocaust? It’s a common opinion among pro-life leaders and educators that abortion would end sooner if the churches would actively educate and motivate the members of their congregations and parishes regarding this issue. A positive development toward this end has been a project by Priests for Life who commissioned a credible survey of priests on the abortion issue.

Protestants also take note. The survey reveals information that may shed light on how you too can approach your pastors to activate the abortion issue within non-Catholic churches.

Wirthlin Worldwide, a highly respected polling firm, surveyed over 500 priests across the nation by telephone. In part, the study was designed to “measure priests’ general awareness of abortion and abortion issues in the US and discover how priests address the issue of abortion in their own ministry.”

The results provide a snapshot, revealing areas where individuals and pro-life organizations have an opportunity to work with priests to promote education and motivation within more Catholic parishes.

Priests’ Knowledge of Abortion
The research showed that a majority of priests are generally informed regarding the basics on abortion. 65 percent knew that abortion was legally available throughout the nine months of pregnancy. 68% were aware that most abortions are performed for social or economic reasons – the reason for over 98% of all abortions done.

Most priests substantially underestimated the number of abortions done in the US each year. Only 7% said there were over 100,000 abortions performed annually. The reality is that, every year, over 1.3 million unborn babies die on the altar of “choice”. Further, 57% felt that the rate of abortion is lower in their community compared to the general population. Only 4% thought that it was higher.

Abortion rated as the most important issue with about half of those polled (52%). It was closely followed by poverty (43%) and drug abuse (34%). Euthanasia and assisted suicide came in fourth (26%). (The percentages do not add up to 100 because respondents were able to select more than one answer.)

How They Address the Abortion Issue
The priests were asked, as representatives of the church, how often did they mentioned the abortion issue. 19 percent said once or twice a year, 40% said every few months, 25% mentioned abortion every few weeks and 14% mentioned it weekly or more. How often do they preach on abortion? 32% admitted that they never dedicated an entire homily to abortion, while 55% did once or twice a year. Only 10% preached exclusively on abortion every few months and 2% did so every few weeks.

When they do preach about abortion, 78% talk about the rights of unborn babies, 60% about post-abortion healing and forgiveness, 56% speak to the issue of harm to women and how this action offends God and 44% address the need to change the law.

A vast majority (76%) felt that they addressed abortion about the right amount, while 22% felt they were not addressing it frequently enough. The two most common reasons given for not addressing it enough was that there are too many issues to deal with (29%) and that abortion is a sensitive issue (15%). Only 1% indicated a concern that there would be a woman in the congregation that may have had an abortion.

When asked in what other ways did they address the abortion issue, a wide variety of reasons were given, the most common being counseling (40%), community involvement (34%) or in general meetings or sessions (24%).

The poll seems to indicate that a majority of priests are open to further education. 36% felt that a majority of the people they serve know all they need to know about abortion. 59% felt they didn’t know enough. It also appears that the members of Catholic parishes are eager to hear more on this issue. When asked how receptive a majority of the people were to abortion discussions, 87% felt they were very or somewhat receptive, while only 9% felt they were not very or not at all receptive.

A valuable result of the poll shows which abortion-related activities priests would most likely promote. 71% said the distribution of educational material in the parish, 59% indicated a special mass, 37% would allow a guest speaker for an evening event, while 27% a guest weekend preacher. 32% would participate in a prayer vigil at an abortion clinic. 77% would be very or somewhat likely to place a local or national hotline phone number on the cover of the parish bulletin that refers people to alternatives to abortion.

While 40% of the priests polled said that there were no obstacles to make it more difficult to address the abortion issue, 23% indicated that the issue was very emotional, 14% noted a lack of interest on the part of the congregation and 12% said it didn’t fit in the church.

Their Personal Response
When asked how important the abortion issue was to them personally when voting for candidates, 37 percent said it was extremely important and 37% indicated it was very important. 25% said that it was only somewhat or not very important.

Researchers asked them how important should the abortion issues be for Catholics when deciding who to vote for. 31% responded extremely important and 42% said very important. 26% indicated only somewhat or not very important.

Perhaps one of the most revealing results of the research was that the priests polled clearly felt that the responsibility for ending abortion was not theirs. Who should bear this responsibility? A full 62% said laity in the church, 16% indicated the government and only 11% said the clergy.

How We Can Assist Them
What would help priests to personally feel more equipped to address the abortion issue? The research shows 41 percent said training on counseling, while 39% said resources for preaching and the opportunity to share experiences regarding pro-life activities with other priests. 34% wanted ideas for parish and school activities.

We now have a better idea of how priests obtain most of their information on abortion (73%) from literature from pro-life groups and (56%) from their diocese. The most helpful venues for pro-life information were short newsletters (49%) and videotapes (22%). Pro-life web sites may be a wealth of information because about half (46%) of those polled use the Internet to get information.

Priests for Life was familiar to 84% of the priests polled, with 78% of them having a very or somewhat favorable impression of the organization. As a result, you may want to have them assist your efforts to reach out to more Catholic clergy. Contact Priests for Life, PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314. Phone 718.980.4400.

Another contact for Catholic resources is the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 3211 4th St., NE, Washington, DC 20017. Phone 202.541.3000.

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