The Abortionist and the Priest

On February 21, 2011, Dr. Bernard Nathanson died. As he said, he “uncaged the abortion monster” in the United States. As he describes in his book Aborting America, he and his colleagues launched the abortion rights movement and organizations, feeding false statistics to the media about the numbers of women dying from illegal abortions.

Dr. Nathanson ran the largest abortion clinic in the Western World and was responsible for some 75,000 abortions. He even aborted his own child.

He eventually became pro-life through the evidence of science, and then through the love of the pro-life movement, came to faith. He was baptized into the Catholic Church by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1996.

Among the many lessons we can draw from his life is how he, as a founder of the abortion movement, viewed the Catholic Church. After becoming pro-life, he would give talks entitled “How the Abortion Issue was Stolen from the Church.” He said the Church was asleep, and he did everything possible to marginalize its teaching authority by driving a wedge between bishops and laity on this issue.

Speaking to clergy, he maintained, “We would have never gotten away with what we did if you had been united, purposeful, and strong.” That is why he had such a high regard for Priests for Life. In an interview with me in 1999, Dr. Nathanson said the following:

“Well, you know Priests for Life is an extraordinarily fine group. I don’t say that in order to make anybody feel better or flatter anyone. It’s an unusual and a very unique group in that most of the priests whom I have encountered across this country and indeed around the world, shy away from the subject of abortion. They somehow want to keep it under the rug and only pull it out when they’re ordered to. In my own experience as a Catholic convert for the last several years, I’ve attended a great many Masses and listened to a great many homilies and I believe in three years I’ve listened to only one homily on the subject of abortion and that was here in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Other than that, priests seem not to want to talk about it and Priests for Life is the Paul Revere of this whole gestalt. That Priests for Life are riding around trying to galvanize the rest of the clergy into getting engaged in what is one of the most appalling revolutions of the 20th Century and I am enormously grateful to them and I admire their work enormously. But unfortunately, I believe that there are not enough, that Priests for Life should have a staff twenty times what it has now.”

In the latter part of his life, Dr. Nathanson became a bioethicist, and often expressed to me his concern that the Church not be caught asleep again on the new bioethical issues. Let’s honor him and make sure we are awake and vigilant!

Priesthood Sunday

The last Sunday of October is Priesthood Sunday. This Saturday, Priests for Life will begin a special novena for all priests.

I would like to invite you to send me your prayer requests for priests that you know.

In particular, I would like to hear your favorite priest stories.

At, we have set up a special web page to enable you to send us your prayer intentions and favorite priest stories.

Our priests rely on the prayers of everyone in the Church. Let us pray in particular that they will not be afraid to address pro-life issues, and speak out with vigor and compassion for unborn children.

Priests need to know that each time they speak up for the unborn, lives will be saved.

Join our novena at

Aim to Win!

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run so as to win. … I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.” The term shadowboxing means that the participant punches at nobody in particular. But when the Church swings, she is supposed to hit something. We have to set specific goals in our fight to overcome evil and extend God’s Kingdom. There are specific enemies of the Church and the Gospel of Life. Our work, therefore, cannot be one of platitudes and generalities.

It needs to begin with research and concrete knowledge of the obstacles in our way. Let’s not shadowbox. Let’s aim to win.

ProLife Liturgical Resources

ProLife Liturgical Resources is a tool for Catholic priests and clergy of other denominations who use the liturgical calendar. This application provides three sets of resources (prayers, bulletin insert, and homily hints) to assist the clergy to preach, teach, and pray about the pro-life message with their congregations, based on the readings assigned to each Sunday in the three-year cycle of the lectionary.

The first of these resources is a set of General Intercessions for the Mass. These “Prayers of the Faithful” are composed according to the guidelines set by the Catholic Church, and include a petition for the growth of the culture of life. This fulfills a request of the Catholic bishops, in their Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities (2001) that “Parishes should include in the petitions at every Mass a prayer that ours will become a nation that respects and protects all human life, born and unborn, reflecting a true culture of life.”

The second of these pro-life resources is a short paragraph that can be included in the Church bulletin to educate the congregation about the issues of abortion and euthanasia and to exhort them to take part in pro-life activities. This paragraph is often drawn from Church documents about pro-life issues, or statements of particular bishops or the Pope.

The third resource is homily hints. Based on the readings of that particular Sunday, these hints show the preacher how to bring out the pro-life dimensions of the readings, and to relate the great Biblical themes of love, life, justice, and mercy to the problems of abortion, euthanasia, and other threats to human life and dignity. The hints are not an entire homily, but rather an illustration of how to make the connections to these issues. Therefore, the preacher can use this tool whether he wants to create an entire homily on these themes, or just make a mention of them in the context of other considerations.

These liturgical resources were all written by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, based on his experience of preaching about abortion and euthanasia, and training clergy on dealing with these issues since 1993. Fr. Pavone serves as a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. The resources on this application are provided a couple of weeks in advance of the Sunday on which they are based. The full set of resources for all three Sunday cycles, and for Liturgical Feasts that are sometimes celebrated on Sundays, is found at

The Response of the Church

In response to Planned Parenthood’s intention to open a new killing center in Omaha, the local Archbishop, George Lucas, issued a statement in which he said, “Women and their unborn children deserve better than to suffer the violence of abortion. As a caring community, we can offer them a compassionate alternative. I invite any woman who might be considering abortion to turn first to the loving and supportive care of the pro-life pregnancy help centers.”

The Archbishop also indicated he would attend a prayer vigil at the location of the new mill. This is an example of the Church’s response to this ongoing abortion tragedy: we pray, we show up, we speak up, and we offer alternatives. Let’s pray for our bishops and all clergy, that they may continue to offer this example.

The Church is the Only Institution…

The war against the unborn can only ultimately be stopped by and through the Church. Just from a natural point of view, this is a vast network of interaction and communication. Imagine what can happen if our clergy infuse that vast structure with clear, vigorous, and compassionate pro-life teaching and action.

The Church is the only institution that has a Divine guarantee that it will prevail over the culture of death. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it,” the Lord said. The gates of death fall in the presence of life.

To fully apply those gifts to the task of ending abortion, does not so much require more structure as it does more spirit, more awareness, more courage, and more determination to use both the means and the opportunities we already have.

In-House Political Criticism

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

I was recently asked what kind of criticism comes from pro-life people regarding the political activities of the pro-life movement. Such criticism does come regularly, and, interestingly, it takes two contradictory forms.

On the one hand, many pro-life people claim our movement is not strong or aggressive enough politically. They complain that we do not set the standard high enough by which a candidate should be considered “pro-life”, do not hold their feet to the fire if they are elected, and do not elicit in them the fear that we can punish them politically.

In particular, pro-life people are fed up with what they perceive to be a failure of the clergy to do what is needed to stop the killing. One problem here is an unwillingness to carry out those activities that the IRS indicates Churches may do and still maintain their 501 (c)(3) status — such as non-partisan voter registration drives and voter guides that do not directly or indirectly endorse or oppose candidates, parties or their positions. Often, this inactivity is accompanied by outlandish, exaggerated, and inaccurate portrayals of what IRS guidelines require, and those who put forward these portrayals have no expertise in that area of the law.

On the other hand, a criticism many pro-life people voice is that the pro-life movement is too political, too partisan, and too identified with the Republican Party. The real weakness here is a lack of understanding of what “non-partisan” really means. It does not mean that we have to avoid any activity that in fact helps a candidate or party. Rather, it means that we pursue the goals for which our Church or 501(c)(3) organization was established without regard for whether they help or hurt a particular candidate or party.

Ironically, therefore, the very complaint that an activity helps a candidate is in the end often more of a partisan action than is the activity against which the complaint is leveled — simply because the complaint shows more concern about helping or hurting the candidate than the activity does. For instance, the bishops teach that life is the fundamental right, and that concern for this right carries more weight in our voting decisions than other issues. Now indeed, such a teaching helps pro-life candidates and parties, and hurts pro-choice candidates and parties. But being non-partisan doesn’t mean we keep silent. It means we speak no matter what, and moreover, it means that if tomorrow the parties or candidates swapped their positions on abortion, our message would not change a single word.

So, another political season is upon us. I, for one, will be more aggressive than ever. As for who qualifies as “pro-life,” I prefer to speak (and listen) in descriptive rather than evaluative terms: what is this candidate willing to do to protect the babies? Don’t give me labels, give me specific commitments.

And as for being partisan, I belong to neither major party, and will continue to challenge both to protect the unborn.

The Foundation of All Other Rights

Some pastors do not speak about abortion because they are afraid of being single-issue people. As clergy, we necessarily address a multitude of issues, and should embrace a consistent ethic of life. Numerically, abortion is one issue; but it is one issue like the foundation of a house is one part of the house. There is a hierarchy of moral values, and as many Church documents state, the dignity of life is the fundamental one. The reason every other issue is an issue to begin with is that human beings have a right to life. We do not, therefore, address abortion because we are unconcerned about other issues, but precisely because we are concerned about them, and realize that we cannot make progress on them unless the foundation itself is secure.

Regardless of Convenience

Some pastors hesitate to address the abortion issue because they are afraid of controversy and opposition from their congregations. Yet this is precisely where we need to strengthen their hearts, and remind them of the words and example of St. Paul, who declared that the word must be preached in season and out of season, whether convenient or inconvenient. A pastor is appointed by God to proclaim His word; he is not appointed by the people to tickle their ears.

Moreover, on the abortion issue, most of the public is with us. This is increasingly true, as statistics show more and more people identifying themselves as pro-life. If people object to the pro-life message, they are the ones in the minority, and they should be told as much. It’s time to stand boldly for life.

Attention Pastors: Please Speak Out!

Why don’t more pastors speak out against abortion? Some of them actually do not know how to connect the issue with the Scripture readings. They know that the readings are supposed to be the basis of their homilies, but they do not find many references to the unborn child or to the killing of such children.

But the themes of pro-life are on every page of Scripture. Homilies are not simply Scripture lessons. Rather they apply the great Biblical themes to the day to day challenges that believers face as they live their lives.

So, for instance, the Bible is clear that only God has dominion over human life – he made it, he cares for it, he owns it. That is why no human being can own or kill or devalue.

–Fr. Frank