A Ministry of Encouragement for Life
The ministry of the priest is demanding. It includes the
need to address sensitive and controversial issues, and a priest can feel alone
and fearful in doing so. Amidst the demands of his ministry, therefore, he needs
support and encouragement from three directions: from his bishop, from his
congregation, and from his fellow priests.
It is this encouragement, especially from fellow
priests, that the Priests for Life association was founded to provide.
Specifically, it provides encouragement to carry out that dimension of priestly
ministry that involves the defense of human life from abortion and
This particular dimension touches on what the Holy Father
and the bishops have identified as two of the most urgent moral crises of our
day (see Evangelium Vitae, 1995). Responding to those crises is
not something added onto the life and ministry of the priest from the
outside. It is, instead, a response that flows from the very meaning of being a
priest, a Christian, and a human person. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one and
indivisible; hence, the Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life.
This very fact causes some to ask whether "Priests for
Life" isn't redundant.
First of all, the title Priests for Life is intended
to convey the truth that being for life is integral and essential to the
life and ministry of every priest. This is not an association that seeks to be
some sort of separate and elite group of priests who claim to be more pro-life
than all the rest. Rather, it seeks to celebrate the dedicated efforts, so often
hidden and unknown, of priests who heroically promote the culture of life across
Secondly, there are many religious communities and other
organizations in the Church whose members highlight a facet of the Gospel to
which all the rest of the Church is also called. Such highlighting is meant to
be a stimulus to all to respond to a call that belongs to all. Therefore, the
Sisters of Charity are not the only ones called to practice charity, nor
is that what their name implies. The Blessed Sacrament Fathers do not
claim to be the only ones who worship the Blessed Sacrament. Examples can be
multiplied. Priests for Life is another such example. It is precisely
because all priests and all others as well, are called to be for life
that this association exists.
It is also helpful to reflect on the fact that there are groups called
Doctors for Life, Nurses for Life, Pharmacists for Life, Lawyers for Life,
Students for Life, Cops for Life, and countless others. But why, one might ask,
should we need such groups? Aren't all doctors supposed to be for life? Yet the
very reason we have a pro-life movement at all is because we have an
immense tragedy on our hands, and need the skills of every profession to restore
protection to all human life. In that light, it would be strange indeed if
there were not a "Priests for Life!"
What is the Mission of Priests for Life?
The purpose of Priests for Life is not to add another
structure or organization to the pro-life effort. Its purpose, instead, is to
infuse a structure that already exists, the Church, with the vigor,
enthusiasm, and very best resources to carry out its mission of defending life.
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 Himself said (Mt.16:18). When we hear
these words, we usually think, "The Church will survive all the attacks launched
against her," and certainly that is true. Upon further reflection, however, we
realize that in a battle, a gate does not run out into the battlefield to attack
the enemy. Rather, the gate stands still and defends the city against the enemy
attacking it! When the Lord says the gates of hell will not prevail against the
Church, He means that the Church is taking the initiative and storming
the gates! Those gates of hell cannot withstand the power of heaven; gates
of sin melt in the presence of saving grace; gates of death fall in the presence
of eternal life; gates of falsehood collapse in the presence of living truth;
gates of violence fall in the presence of divine love. These are the gifts with
which Christ has equipped His Church.
To fully exercise those gifts in response to the problems
of abortion and euthanasia, therefore, does not so much require more structure
as it does more spirit, more awareness, more courage, more determination to use
both the means and the opportunities we have! That is what Priests for Life is
all about. From the heart of the Church, it is a movement of priests seeking to
use, and help the rest of the Church to use, her full strength against the most
devastating attacks on human life in our day.
In certain places there are Priests for Life "chapters," in
which priests come together regularly to encourage each other and pray together
about the pro-life dimensions of their ministry. We are happy to assist the
development of such chapters. The essence, however, of what Priests for Life
seeks to accomplish is not attendance at chapter meetings, but rather the
effective proclamation of the Gospel of Life within the ordinary, day to day
aspects of the priest's assigned ministry.
The mission statement of Priests for Life identifies three
avenues through which its overall goal is achieved. First is the networking of
priests who are particularly active in pro-life work. Through our newsletters
and websites, we feature what priests are doing about abortion. Priests are put
in contact with each other across the nation to share ideas, resources and
experiences concerning effective pro-life ministry. Priests who may feel alone
or isolated because of their special emphasis on life issues are assured that
they are never alone.
A second aspect of the mission is to assist priests who may
be hesitant about addressing abortion and euthanasia. By means of literature
and audio-visual materials, seminars and direct personal assistance, the Priests
for Life association can help a priest to identify his fears, uncertainties, or
misconceptions about the issues involved or about the pro-life movement itself.
One of our publications, for example, is Addressing Abortion with Confidence.
It identifies common fears clergy have in this area, and discusses ways to
The third aspect of our mission is to assist priests and
pro-life organizations to work together effectively. The multiplicity of groups
is often confusing and overwhelming. The influx of literature, as good as it may
be, can be dizzying. How does a busy priest sort out what the initiatives,
activities, and strategies of the movement are? How can he know what resources
he can rely on in his parish, and what strategies of particular groups are in
accord with the teaching and discipline of the Church? Priests for Life can
provide this type of guidance. Priests for Life knows intimately the philosophy
and strategies of pro-life groups both big and small, as well as the persons
behind them. Our association maintains communication, personal contact, and
good relations with all such groups. In our newsletter and websites, we seek to
summarize suggested strategies and resources for busy priests. We are,
furthermore, actively involved at all national gatherings of pro-life leaders in
which strategies for the movement are formulated.
Not only does our Association assist the priest to work
with the pro-life groups, but it assists the pro-life groups to work with their
priests. From the beginning of Priests for Life, there has been strong support
from the laity, and the association has lay members. Many want to help their
priests speak up more about abortion. Priests for Life actively assists lay
persons and groups to formulate realistic expectations and work constructively
with their clergy. Some of our brochures, CD's, and seminars, in fact, address
The Clergy Commitment Pledge
Every priest is "for life" by definition, and we therefore
do not put a heavy emphasis on recruiting "members." Nevertheless, thousands of
priests across the United States have signed the Clergy Commitment Pledge, which
expresses the spirit of our Association. The text follows, along with a few
Priests for Life Clergy
As an ordained priest/deacon of the Catholic Church, I acknowledge that an
essential part of my ministry is to proclaim and defend the dignity of the human
person. As a sign of my commitment to this call, and in order to help strengthen
my brother priests and deacons and be strengthened by them, I have joined the
Priests for Life Association, an officially recognized Private Association of
pledge to pray with perseverance for a deeper respect for human life in our
society, and especially for an end to abortion and euthanasia. I pledge to
clearly and consistently preach and teach about the sanctity of life to all
those entrusted to my pastoral care.
pledge to cooperate with the projects and programs of Priests for Life, to the
degree that I am reasonably able to do so and within the policies set by my
Ordinary. I pledge to lend support and encouragement to other members of the
Association and to the wider pro-life movement when the appropriate
am confident that the Victory of Life has already been won through the Cross and
Resurrection of Christ, and that by proclaiming, celebrating, and serving the
gift of Life, Christ will transform the culture of death into the Kingdom of
You will note that the pledge indicates that this
organization is for Catholic priests and deacons. (Our outreach to deacons is
called Deacons in the Service of Life, and has its own introductory
www.deaconsforlife.org.) Together with our lay membership, we also rejoice
when ministers and the faithful of other denominations associate themselves with
our work. They are invited to cooperate with us and to take advantage of our
educational materials. Several other denominations have also formed similar
kinds of associations for their clergy.
The pledge points out that the defense of the human person
is integral to the ordained ministry. The first motive mentioned for
joining the association is the networking value it provides.
Prayer, preaching, and teaching are then mentioned
as key aspects of the pledge. These are standard aspects of the work of the
priest and deacon. If we infuse our normal activities with a greater
attentiveness to the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia, we will make
significant progress to overcome these evils. While Priests for Life provides
suggestions and resources for prayer, preaching, and teaching, we do not hold
our members to any specific form of devotion. Nor should association with
Priests for Life be seen as a commitment to a particular school of theology. In
those many cases in which the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church
permit a variety of theological, pastoral, and liturgical expressions, Priests
for Life seeks to welcome every one of them. When it comes to the defense of
innocent human life, we are not talking about a segment of the Church; we are
talking about the whole Church.
Cooperation with Priests for Life projects is then
mentioned, always within the context of union with one's own Ordinary. We do
not come into a diocese in order to promote a fixed program or activity "from
the outside." Instead, we come into dioceses precisely in order to assist the
clergy to work together with their bishop in the way he directs and according to
the local circumstances. At the same time, we provide the benefit of the
experience our network has, and the numerous contacts with all groups in the
pro-life movement. We provide seminars, workshops, and retreats for priests,
deacons, seminarians, and laity, as well as parish missions and assistance at
every kind of pro-life event.
The pledge ends on a note of supreme confidence. In this
battle, we are not just working for victory; we are working from
victory. Victory is our starting point, because Christ has robbed death of its
power. Therefore, we ask clergy and laity alike to carry out their pro-life
work with profound peace of soul and a joyful spirit. It is our palpable joy
for life which, when seen by the world, will attract it to our message.
The Priests for Life Chapter
Our primary goal is that the individual priest will benefit
by his interaction with Priests for Life. However, as other movements of
priestly renewal have experienced, there can be great benefit when priests come
together for a time of prayer, teaching, and discussion about the pro-life
aspects of their ministry. The purpose of the chapter is to facilitate
communication of the priests and deacons with each other about pro-life
concerns. We are happy to assist the development of such chapters.
We also utilize the social networking provided by Facebook
and similar internet resources to allow priests to interact with one another and
share resources and encouragement.
Does Priests for Life Believe in the Consistent Ethic of
Because of our focus on abortion and euthanasia, I am
sometimes asked this question. But consistency is not just something we
"believe" in; it is something we are all obliged to! Consistency demands
that we recognize the sanctity of the human person, whoever and wherever that
person may be, and whatever evil is threatening that dignity.
So the answer to the question is a resounding Yes!
Because of some misunderstandings of the consistent ethic,
however, it is important to note that Priests for Life understands this phrase
in the context of what the United States bishops have said about it on more than
one occasion. In their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities (A Campaign in
Support of Life, November, 2001), the bishops write, "Among important
issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned,
abortion necessarily plays a central role… Its victims are the most vulnerable
and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are
called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this
issue of justice. This focus and the Church's commitment to a consistent ethic
of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life…far from diminishing
concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the
dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue
while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision."
The theme is also stressed in the Bishops' 1998 document, Living the
Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics. In their 1989 Resolution on
Abortion, the bishops call abortion the fundamental human rights issue of
our day for all people of good will.
As Cardinal Joseph Bernardin pointed out, having a
consistent ethic certainly cannot mean that specific groups must actively
address every issue that impacts on human life. Such an approach is simply
impossible. What it does mean, however, is that in the marvelous unity of the
Body of Christ, each part does the work assigned to it, while rejoicing in and
affirming the work of all the other parts (see
www.priestsforlife.org/consistentethic for more information).
Pro-Life Spirituality: Positive and Joyful
Since its founding in 1991, the members of Priests for Life
have reflected on their worldwide ministry, and drawing especially from
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, 1995) have articulated and taught a
spirituality of being pro-life. We offer the opportunity for lay people to
profess promises as Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. By these
promises, which are very similar to the Clergy Commitment Pledge above, they
commit themselves to make the pro-life mission of the Church the primary focus
of their personal service to the Gospel.
Our spirituality is marked by a spirit of joy, a serene
confidence, a deep compassion, a radical solidarity with the unborn and their
parents, a strong courage, a constant readiness for public witness, and a
passion for justice.
A Multi-Faceted Ministry
Priests are ordained to minister to the whole Church, and
Priests for Life ministers to the whole pro-life movement and helps to unify it.
Along with the aspects of our work we have already mentioned, the following
ministries operate under our umbrella: a) Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest
ministry for healing after abortion; b) the Silent No More Awareness Campaign,
the world’s largest mobilization of women and men healed from their involvement
in abortion and ready to speak out; c) an outreach to the African-American
community, led by our Pastoral Associate Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther
King, Jr.; d) Seminarians for Life; e) Hispanic outreach; f) Youth outreach; g)
Political responsibility outreach, based in our Washington office across the
street from the US Supreme Court; h) our multimedia outreach through radio,
television, and internet, i) International outreach, with activity in dozens of
countries, and i) Gospel of Life Ministries, bringing our message and presence
to the Body of Christ in other denominations.
We welcome your involvement in this growing ministry.
Fr. Frank Pavone was appointed in 1993 by Cardinal John
O'Connor to serve as National Director of Priests for Life, and has also served
as an Official of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, which
coordinates pro-life activities for the entire Catholic Church. He is a priest
of the Diocese of Amarillo, TX and leads Priests for Life with the permission of
Priests for Life aims to encourage God's people to
respond to the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia, and is an association
recognized under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.
This material may be reproduced or quoted, with proper
credit, to spread the pro-life message.
The Priests for Life
Priests for Life Brochures
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