'Bravo!' -- Priests for Life's ad on abortion debate spurs support and resistance
A full-page pro-life advertisement in The New York Times placed by Priests for Life and addressed to voters and politicians has stirred strong reaction from both sides of the abortion debate.
"To those who would allow abortion and claim to be Christian, we say, `Stop being a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,' " the ad declares. "We will not be intimidated, nor frightened into complacency, by those in the government and the media who would prefer to keep us silent behind the walls of the Church sanctuary."
Telephone calls, faxes and e-mails, most of them supportive, have poured into the organization's offices on Staten Island. Also, groups favoring abortion have issued statements questioning what they see as political meddling by a Church group and calling Father Frank A. Pavone, international director of Priests for Life, an extremist who tries to present his organization as mainstream.
"Bravo!!!" read an e-mail from Hugh Macken of Rye, who called the ad "a prophetic call to stand up and bear witness to the Truth.''
"Abortion and euthanasia and many other issues concerning our rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness hinge upon our willingness to legally protect each citizen ...We all have a constitutional right to express and practice our faith in the world" Macken wrote.
"People are asking what they can do to help us," Janet Morana, assistant to Father Pavone, told CNY. "They are telling us that they are glad someone is speaking out and giving the Church a voice."
Father Pavone, a priest of the archdiocese, said the Times' ad and the campaign to educate voters and politicians "is a pastoral service to faithful Catholics out there who really feel offended that some people who claim to represent the Church do not represent the Church on these life issues."
The full-page ad, paid for by donors, appeared on page 11 of the first section of the Times on Friday,
July 21. Headlined "An Urgent Message for Lawmakers, Voters, and Those Running for Office," the ad was signed by Father Pavone and 46 other Catholic priests. A coupon asked readers to join Priests for Life and send a donation for the placement of more ads.
The text highlighted sections having to do with abortion and political responsibility in two documents released by the U.S. bishops; "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" and "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium."
Part of the organization's Campaign for Life 2000, the ad was unveiled at a July 18 press conference in Washington, D.C. (CNY, July 20). There, Father Pavone announced an educational effort "unprecedented in magnitude and variety of the ways we are getting the message out" that will cost up to $1 million. Priests for Life will run newspaper and television ads and work with pastors and parishes to spread the pro-life message throughout the United States.
Negative reactions were quick in coming. The Feminist Majority Foundation said Father Pavone supports "anti-abortion extremists and their tactics," and those "who have been jailed for criminal violations related to abortion clinic harassment and terrorism."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that Priests for Life's plan to run "issue ads" in an election year raises concerns about the organization's tax-exempt status.
"Under federal tax law, churches and other similar tax-exempt groups are strictly prohibited from intervening in political campaigns," the group stated, adding that it "will not hesitate to report violations of the law to the IRS."
Father Pavone told CNY that his organization has worked closely with a law firm and studied government guidelines closely in planning the campaign.
I'm willing to invite the IRS in," he said. "If they plan to contact the IRS, they might be surprised to find that we contacted them first."