Galway novena ‘will not provide platform’ for any position on abortion

Redemptorist leader anticipates 90,000 at nine-day event next month

People who take extreme views on issues like the abortion debate “don’t recognise the whole grey area in which most of us live”, Galway novena director Fr Brendan O’Rourke has said.

“If all that pro-choice groups talk about is women’s rights, with no mention of the child, and if all anti-abortion groups talk about is the child without any mention of a woman’s health, that is not the big picture,” the Redemptorist declared.

Next month’s novena – one of the biggest gatherings of Catholics this side of the referendum – “will not be a platform” for any one position, said Fr O’Rourke, who heads his order’s retreat centre in Esker, Athenry.

Ninety thousand people are expected to visit Galway Cathedral over the days of the annual “solemn novena” which opens on Monday, February 19th until February 27th.


The novena would extend a “welcome to everyone”, irrespective of their position on the Eighth Amendment, the leading Redemptorist said on Wednesday.

“We have always tried to avoid platforms, although we have adopted themes on particular issues,” Fr O’Rourke said, with this year’s theme being “the central importance of family and home”.

“Respect for life in the womb will be covered in petitions and prayers, and there will be all kinds of pressures around the issue,” Fr O’Rourke said,but the aim is not to “alienate or to judge anyone”.

‘Seamless garment’

Fr O'Rourke, a native of Wexford and a psychotherapist, served in the Philippines and north America for many years, and was in New York during the 1983 referendum on abortion.

He said he had sympathy for the view espoused by the late north American cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who defined protection of life as a "seamless garment".

This, he went on, extended from threats by the arms race and conflict, issues of justice, the plight of refugees, those wrongfully imprisoned, but also the “wellbeing of life in the womb”.

In linking many issues affecting human dignity, the cardinal took a “big picture” approach which the current abortion debate does not, in appearing to be “very black and white”, Fr O’Rourke said.

So far, there has been insufficient focus paid to providing resources for women who chose to carry a crisis pregnancy to full term.

Extra seats

He said he was mindful of advice attributed to the late Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, who is said to have told his supporters not to speak out on issues as a group because "the very people who would be hurt by it might be the very people who would require help later".

“Of course, we may have groups campaigning outside the cathedral over the nine days, but that is not within our control,” Fr O’Rourke said.

The Galway Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, involving more than 20 organisations, said it had not taken any decision as yet on campaigning and is holding its launch next Wednesday. The Pro-Life Campaign did not respond to inquiries.

The cathedral’s normal capacity is 1,800, but 500 extra seats will allow for some 2,300 at the six daily Masses from 7.45am to 9pm, with a team of 12 including three couples who run pre-marriage courses at the order’s Esker retreat, and more than 300 volunteers.

Fr O’Rourke said the novena had “held its own” even as the Roman Catholic church had been embroiled in controversy , and numbers were slightly up in the past two years.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times