To the Rev. Frank Pavane, one issue makes next month's presidential vote crucial -- abortion.
"We see it as really the most important election ever," said Pavone, national director of the Roman Catholic group Priests for Life.
While abortion is seldom mentioned by the major candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Pavone believes it is "the most fundamental issue to be considered" by every candidate and voter.
He also warns that voting for abortion-rights candidates might be sinful.
"If the person is saying that they believe in abortion rights, and that that's why they're voting for the candidate, there's a serious problem there.
"In other words, the way we look at it is, anyone who in any way tries to advance the practice of abortion or protect the availability of abortion is committing a serious sin."
But Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said abortion is not even among the top 10 issues that voters -- including Catholics -- consider crucial.
She said it is "outrageous" that Pavone would say it is sinful to vote for an abortion-rights candidate.
"He's a priest, not God," she said.
Pavone's group is spending at least $1 million on print and broadcast advertising across the nation to get its anti-abortion message across. None of the ads are scheduled to run in newspapers or on broadcast stations in Ohio, but they are appearing in national newspapers such as USA Today and The New York Times.
The money for the ad campaign and the group's other activities comes mostly from donations, Pavone said, but some comes from church diocesan agencies. The Diocese of Columbus has not given Priests for Life any money, said spokesman Tom Berg.
The group also is sending postcards to every U.S. priest, urging him to get parishioners ready for the election, and speakers representing Priests for Life are fanning out across the country talking about abortion and the presidential campaign.
Pavone, for instance, will be in Columbus, the Dayton-Springfield area and Cincinnati in the last few days before the Nov. 7 election.
The week before, the Rev. Walter Quinn will represent Priests for Life at St. Catharine Church on the East Side as part of the Catholic Church's annual month-long "respect life" observance.
In the speeches and ads Pavone said Priests for Life remains nonpartisan. The group is "enunciating the church's teaching" on abortion and the responsibilities Catholics have as citizens to vote, he said.
"We're keeping within the realm of issue advocacy," he said.
But he readily admits his personal support for Bush, with whom he has met.
"He's a far cry from what we've had in the last eight years, and it's certainly a welcome change for pro-life people," Pavone said.
Pavone said the election is critical because the next president likely will be redesigning the U.S. Supreme Court through appointments. It also is important because more voters are being won over to the anti- abortion position, he said.
"We're seeing a widening gap between the attitudes of the American people about abortion and the attitudes of those at the highest level of leadership. I don't think it's good for the country if that gap continues."
Kissling said that Catholics traditionally are not single-issue voters and that many of them concur with most Americans in believing that abortion should be legal.
"In the 21st century, individual Catholic people understand that when it comes to how they vote and what they think about abortion, they get to make up their own minds, not follow the bishops on this subject," she said. "They don't follow the pope on this subject. Why would they follow Father Pavone?"
Kissling said the approval of the RU-486 abortion pill by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration won't make abortion a hot campaign issue. That decision is "a blip on the screen in terms of electoral politics." she said.
She questioned whether Priests for Life is nonpartisan -- which it must be to have tax-exempt status -- when Pavone makes public his preference in the presidential race.
Catholics for a Free Choice, an educational organization founded in 1973 and based in Washington, also is tax-exempt. It ran ads in the National Journal during this summer's political conventions that cited polling data about Catholics' views on abortion and family planning. No other ads are planned during the campaign, Kissling said.
She would not give her views on the presidential election.
Pavone, who has been full-time director of Priests for Life since 1993, will be at the Pontifical
College Josephinum in Columbus on Nov. 6. He will say Mass at 11:30 a.m. and will speak afterward at a luncheon in the Jessing Center there….
Pat Banaszak, director of education for Tri-County Right to Life in Springfield, said Pavone will speak at several churches and other events in the area during that weekend, and at the University of Dayton and in Cincinnati.
Quinn will speak during Masses at St. Catharine the weekend of Oct. 27, said Gina Hinterschied, coordinator far his visit.
He also will participate in a march from the church to the Planned Parenthood office on E. Main Street and speak at a luncheon, she said.