Kiwi student questions Pope on abortion


Abortion was one topic New Zealand student Seamus Lohrey quizzed the Pope on during an online forum last Thursday.

He was one of 12 students from the Asia-Pacific region who shared young people’s concerns with the Pope during the online “Building Bridges” forum.

Organised by Loyola University Chicago, the forum was designed to enable Pope Francis and young people to meet and discuss their concerns.

New Zealand’s youth

Lohrey represents a group he has been meeting with in New Zealand as part of the Building Bridges initiative.

He told Francis his student group is concerned with the Church’s failure “in fully respecting and acting in accord with human dignity”.

Because humans are created in God’s image and likeness, we should be treated as full and valued members of society, he said.

The Church is inconsistent regarding human dignity, he said.

Abortion example

Lohrey told Francis his student group sees the Church offering insufficient dignity to the most vulnerable in our societies.

“We expect people to meet our rules, which turns people away from a relationship with Christ and makes the Church unattractive,” he said.

“For example those who procure abortion are some of the most spiritually, emotionally and physically vulnerable people in our societies, yet the Church responds with an automatic excommunication.

“These people, desperately in need of unconditional love, must meet our requirements before we fully minister to them. This is a contradiction of the word unconditional.

“So how can young people be the change we need?” he asked.

Parishes also an issue

Lohery also expressed concern about the number of people who call themselves Christian but do not go to Church.

For instance he said that although 33 per cent of New Zealanders are Christian, only nine per cent go to Mass.

He suggested that the people not attending church were not necessarily at fault.

“Other organisations would believe a drop in attendance like this to be a result of their own doing.

“But in my experience, the attitude of clergymen and parish administration is that these people who do not attend Mass are simply not disciplined in practising their faith,” he told the Pope.

A call to Pope Francis

At the end of his address to Pope Francis, Lohery asked for guidance.

“Pope Francis, you have been a revolutionary leader in making the church bring Christ’s love to where people are.

“However, how can you ensure that the rest of our Church will follow your lead?

“What can be invested in ensuring there’s education in recognising the dignity of all people, not just regular Mass attendees?”

Francis responds

Lohrey was one of three students in the video segment speaking with Pope Francis.

Chieh Hsuan Huang from Taiwan and Helen Vyanessa Ribca Oroh from Indonesia also joined the conversation raising concerns their own groups had discussed.

Francis thanked all three participants.

He did not address Lohrey’s concerns directly but, speaking in a more general context, he focused on the importance of bearing witness.

In a time of automation, it is people and their witness that are most attractive, he said.

Belonging to groups, families, cultures and societies with good and strong values is helpful, as is witness.

The Pope encouraged the young people to develop and have their own identities.

“You must always bear witness, bear testimony for life and carry on.

“And I would insist on this very aspect.

“Focus on this ability of having your own identity.

“To move on, forward, working with others, helping one another, always. ”

Abortion, reconciliation, absolution

Although Francis did not comment about abortion during the meeting, the Church’s view on absolution for abortion is different from Lohrey’s understanding.

During the Holy Year of Mercy in 2015 – 2016, Pope Francis extended the authority to absolve the sin of abortion to all priests.

He later indefinitely extended this faculty, which continues to this day.


  • Building bridges across Asia Pacific: A synodal encounter between Pope Francis and university students (YouTube)
  • CathNews NZ
Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

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