Despite pointed criticism from a prominent pro-life leader and other Catholic commentators, Hallow says it will continue to feature Irish actor and pro-abortion activist Liam Neeson as a voice actor on its popular Catholic meditation and prayer app.
“We respectfully disagree with those who claim that working with an actor who has done something in the past that disagrees with Church teaching, regardless of the details of how the work is arranged, is morally wrong,” Alex Jones, Hallow’s CEO and co-founder, told the Register in a new statement this week.
“Hallow is not a place of judgment,” he added. “Hallow is a place for anyone looking to grow closer to God. Especially sinners.”
Neeson, 71, best known for his roles in Schindler’s List and Taken and for providing the voice of Aslan in the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, is a featured narrator in Hallow’s “Advent Pray25” challenge.
His involvement with Hallow has generated criticism on social media because of the actor’s past activism in support of legalized abortion in Ireland, which became law in 2018.
In a social-media post Tuesday, Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action, wrote that “Neeson was one of the most prominent activists and public faces for the campaign to legalize abortion on demand in Ireland. The campaign succeeded and abortion is now legal in the once pro-life Ireland.”
She said that such public advocacy is “not in keeping with the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of life, or with basic respect for human rights” and that “a strident pro-abortion activist, and the public face of a pro-abortion campaign, should not be the face for a Catholic prayer company’s Advent Campaign.”
Rose also disclosed that Hallow was a sponsor of her show until recently.
“I think Hallow app has done a ton of good and it’s disappointing to see the amazing company they’ve built embroiled in this scandal,” Rose said in her post. “I hope Hallow does the right thing and ends their marketing relationship with Neeson.”
Daniel Burke, president of the Avila Institute and former president and chief operating officer of EWTN News, also voiced his concerns about the partnership with Neeson recently, writing that “as a public figure and an outspoken advocate of the murder of unborn children, it is unthinkable to me (and to many) that he would be included in Hallow’s Advent meditations.”
Burke noted that “the same voice that was heard in anti-Catholic, pro-abortion video advertisements in Ireland will be offering prayerful reflections to Catholics this sacred season.”
Jones, Hallow’s CEO, provided a statement to the Register in response to these latest criticisms.
“Hallow is unequivocally pro-life,” he wrote, and “will always be pro-life and do everything in our power to help the Church in changing hearts and minds on this issue.”
Jones highlighted the app’s explicitly pro-life pieces of content and said that there would be more of that content. He added that “everything on the app is and always will be 100% in line with Church teaching.”
“At the same time, our goal is to reach out to those who have most fallen away,” he continued. “One of the ways we do this is by partnering with many different talented voice actors. These actors read scripts written by our theology team. Many of these actors come from different faith backgrounds and may have done things in the past or hold personal views that we would not agree with. By having someone on the app we in no way claim to endorse or stand behind their past actions or personal views.”
The structure of the content in the app is important, Jones said, and in the case of Neeson’s partnership, he is “simply narrating the words of C.S. Lewis, while Jonathan Roumie and Jeff Cavins lead reflections, prayers and meditations on those works, in the same way that we might watch The Chronicles of Narnia movie, in which Liam narrates the voice of Aslan, and then listen to a separate theological reflection on it.”
“We respectfully disagree with those who claim that working with an actor who has done something in the past that disagrees with Church teaching, regardless of the details of how the work is arranged, is morally wrong,” he said.
Jones said the Hallow team has “spent much time in discussion with our faith advisors and in personal prayer, especially on the passage of Christ choosing to dine with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, despite the grumbling of the crowd, which was the daily Mass reading following our Advent announcement. Ultimately we decided that this is what we think God is asking us to do — to help him to seek and to save what was lost.”
He expressed his gratitude to Neeson, The Chosen star Jonathan Roumie, and the other actors who have worked with Hallow for “lending their talents to help people grow deeper in a relationship with Christ,” saying that such work “takes courage, especially in today’s world.”
Jones also dismissed the idea that the partnership would cause scandal. “We do not agree with the argument that listening to this content will lead anyone farther away from God, as would be claimed by an argument rooted in the sin of scandal,” he said. “We have seen, and continue to see during this Advent challenge, exactly the opposite. Many thousands who have never prayed, or who haven’t prayed in years, are giving prayer a try for the first time.”
“As with every major decision at Hallow, we prayed deeply through this decision and consulted heavily with our advisors. It is a very difficult decision,” he said, in part. “Ultimately for us, it comes down to our discernment in prayer. 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. I understand if you disagree.”
In May 2018, just before Ireland legalized abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy and beyond in certain cases, Neeson wrote in the Irish Independent in favor of legalizing abortion. He wrote that the country treats women “as second-class citizens by taking away the basic right to make choices about their own bodies and if and when to have children.”
In a brief interview with Roumie about Hallow’s Advent challenge, Neeson, who has referenced his Catholic upbringing in past interviews, said he hoped the challenge would “help us to really grow deeper in our faith this holiday season.”
Neeson particularly expressed admiration for C.S. Lewis’ emphasis on regaining childlike wonder and on the vulnerability of love. He hoped that the meditations from Lewis would give people “a little more hope and peace in their lives.”