With a full-page ad in The New York Times and a press conference in Washington, D.C., Priests for Life this week kicked off a nationwide campaign to remind voters and elected officials of the responsibility to protect human life.
"What we are doing here today is exactly what the Church has done for centuries: defending human life and challenging the government to do the same," said Father Frank A. Pavone, a priest of the archdiocese who directs Priests for Life (PFL), at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., July 18.
Clergy of various denominations from across the country joined him as he announced Campaign for Life 2000.
"When a human government attempts to legitimize an act of violence, the Church declares that such an attempt is devoid of all authority or judicial validity," he said.
He added that laws allowing abortion are not merely bad laws, "they are no laws at all."
He said the campaign wants to convey three messages, drawn from the U.S. bishops' statements, "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," and "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium."
The messages are that Christians have a responsibility to be informed and active in the political process; that the most fundamental right is the right to life, and any candidate or policy is to be evaluated on how it impacts human life and dignity; that no public official of any religion can responsibly take a "pro-choice" position on abortion because it contradicts the teachings of the Church, the meaning of the Gospel and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes an "inalienable right to life."
Father Pavone said the campaign will not endorse candidates or single out individual political races. "Our message here is not that we want to control the way people vote," he said. "The message is one of integrity: Don't claim to be a believer if you don't act like one, and don't claim to be a member of the Church and then misrepresent its teachings."
Ads will run in other national newspapers, and three television commercials will be aired. In one, Father Pavone quotes from "Living the Gospel of Life," urging lawmakers who support legal abortion to "consider the consequences for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin." Another spot calls abortion "the most important issue" of the political season.
"I want the public to understand abortion as it is, as an act of violence," Father Pavone said . He called on television to "show the American people what an abortion is."
During the press conference, Father Pavone said he was grateful to Cardinal O'Connor for allowing him to direct PFL. "The instruction and inspiration he leaves to us has shaped our efforts and will do so for years to come," he said.
Anthony DeStefano, executive director of PFL, said the organization allocated $250,000 for print advertising and was willing to spend as much as $1 million in the campaign. It has about 46,000 members, including 6,000 priests, and an annual budget of $4 million, raised through donations.
Other plans include street demonstrations, newspaper op-ed articles, distribution of the bishops' documents and encouraging priests to preach about the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception and to personally bring that message to candidates and elected officials.
"It is our hope that our public comments will motivate candidates or office-holders who do support abortion to approach the members of their clergy and discuss these issues in private and confidential settings," Father Pavone said. He added that PFL priests will be available for such pastoral service.