An Irish Ghost Haunts Hallow

EDITORIAL: Leadership of the popular Catholic app should rethink its poor decision to use pro-abortion actor Liam Neeson to narrate its Advent reflections.

Liam Neeson attends the UK premiere of 'Marlowe' at Vue West End in London on March 16, 2023.
Liam Neeson attends the UK premiere of 'Marlowe' at Vue West End in London on March 16, 2023. (photo: Ian West / AP)

In 2015, in the midst of a fierce campaign to repeal an amendment in the Irish Constitution that recognized that unborn children in the womb had a right to life, the pro-abortion nongovernmental organization Amnesty International released an ad featuring the crumbled-down ruins of an ancient Catholic church.

“A ghost haunts Ireland,” the narrator says as the camera slowly pans across the bleak, black-and-white landscape.

“A cruel ghost of the last century,” the narration continues. “It blindly brings suffering — even death — to the women whose lives it touches.”

Is the ghost the Catholic Church? Ireland’s constitution? In a clever ploy, the words and images yoke the two together, knowing that the ad’s Irish audience is well aware that the Church, still a powerful political player in Ireland in 1983 when the amendment was passed, strongly backed the right-to-life measure.

“Ireland doesn’t have to be chained to its past,” the narrator concludes. “It’s time to lay this ghost to rest.”

Two points about this ad: It’s blatantly anti-Catholic; and the narrator is Irish actor Liam Neeson, who lent his name and his evocative brogue to the ultimately successful effort to make abortion legal in his native country.

It’s understandable, then, why many Catholics were deeply offended when Hallow, the hugely successful Catholic prayer and meditation app, decided to choose Neeson, perhaps best known for voicing Aslan the Lion in the latest film adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, to narrate meditations by Lewis as part of its “Advent Pray25” challenge.

Less understandable is why Hallow, which has done so much good to promote the Catholic faith, through Father Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in a Year podcast and countless other wonderful offerings, doesn’t recognize that its decision to feature Neeson undermines its laudable pledge to be “unequivocally pro-life,” in the words of its CEO and co-founder, Alex Jones.

In response to the criticism it received, Jones issued a statement saying that while he appreciated “all the feedback,” he was certain that Hallow had taken a prudent course with Neeson.

“It is a difficult decision. Ultimately for us it comes down to our discernment in prayer,” Jones said.

“I do not always get clear answers in prayer, but in this particular case I do strongly believe this is what God is calling us to do,” he added. “I understand if you disagree.”

Without question, Hallow has been an amazing success story. Since its founding by a group of Notre Dame alums in 2018, it has grown by leaps and bounds. Downloaded more than 10 million times, Hallow quickly became the first religious app to crack Apple’s “Top 10 Apps.” More than 225 million prayers have been said using the app, the company says.

Now, the still-fledgling company is facing its first real public-relations test. And so far, it’s missed the mark.

In a follow-up statement to the Register, Jones pushed back on the suggestion that Neeson’s personal views and political activism should disqualify him from working for the app.

“We have many actors on the app with differing personal views on many topics, some who are practicing Catholics, but several of whom come from different faith backgrounds. Several have done things in the past or may hold personal views that we would disagree with,” he said. 

“The one thing we do strongly stand behind is every word they read within the app itself.”

No one is suggesting that Hallow subject voice actors to some kind of Catholic purity test. But to argue that Neeson’s background shouldn’t matter is disingenuous.

Would the decision have been so difficult if a prospective voice actor had made racist, misogynistic or antisemitic comments in the past? Of course not.

So why does the fact that Neeson so publicly and destructively promoted the killing of innocent life give him a pass? It shouldn’t.

Respectfully, we ask Hallow to prayerfully reconsider its stance. There’s still time to do the right thing and lay this ghost to rest.