By Anthony Barich
Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton has conceded to the Walking With Love symposium in Perth that the Catholic Church has taken a long time to come to grips with dealing with post-abortion trauma.
The symposium, one of many around Australia initiated by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference that discuss alternatives and responses to abortion, said he hopes the forum would make the Church “very effective” in dealing with women and couples who have had experienced abortion or are dealing with a crisis or unexpected pregnancy.
“They say the Church is like a ship, and ships are slow to turn around,” Bishop Sproxton told the symposium at the Floreat Forum on February 16.
“I heard a more realistic interpretation – rather than the Church being one ship, it is a flotilla of many ships. Some turn around quite quickly and little by little more ships begin to turn until finally the entire flotilla of ships is moving in the same direction.”
Bishop Sproxton, who was made a member of the then-Bishops’ committee for Family and for Life shortly after being consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Perth in February 2002, said the Walking With Love symposium was a long-term strategy and key initiative in the pastoral responses to abortion.
He said it was shortly after he was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Perth that the CFFFL began work on the Walking With Love project.
“The bishops’ concern was that until that time our teachings and pronouncements on abortion were forced on the injustice of abortion,” Bishop Sproxton said. “It is hard to teach on abortion from this point of view without sounding judgemental.
“This is not to say, of course, that this questions of justice and the rights of the unborn should be put aside. Rather, we felt that the tragedy of abortion is an experience of women and men, as well as the unborn child.”
“We are about listening and understanding the needs of women facing motherhood. We are about recovering compassion and support for women facing a difficult pregnancy or suffering the effects of abortion.
“We are about convincing more and more in our nation that abortion is not a solution and that there can be better, life-giving alternatives. Finally, we are about hope and healing for anyone who has been affected by abortion.”
He said the bishops reflected on the need to stand where the woman especially stands when she is faced with the unexpected or difficult pregnancy.”
Bishop Sproxton said the Australian bishops felt the imperative from the lead given by the late Pope John Paul II, whose constant message to women had been encouraging and supportive.
“He hoped that this pro-woman message he had would be heard by all the Church,” Bishop Sproxton said. “So we considered how the Church would walk alongside women in a supportive, non-judgemental way.”
He said he found last year’s discussion on the high number of abortions in Australia (about 90,000 annually – about one in four pregnancies) “intriguing”, and he developed an acute sense of the tragedy that abortion represents to all involved – the woman and the man as well as the baby.
Bishop Sproxton said that the Church must be close to women especially when they are carrying their baby by giving them all the spiritual and practical support possible.
Following discussions on abortion last year, Bishop Sproxton found that the “awful reality” is that when a woman feels abandoned and unsupported that abortion becomes an option.
He said this must be manifested not just through priests, but parishioners can become “immediate ministers” for women with unplanned pregnancies; in doing so they will be responding to John Paul II’s 1995 Encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life).