Atlanta -- "To love one another as Christ taught demands a rejection of abortion," said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, in talks presented to clergy, Religious and lay persons of the archdiocese.
He encouraged participants to promote the gospel of life during four talks held Oct. 2-3 at the Cathedral of Christ the King and St. Joseph's Church, Marietta. Thirty-five members of the clergy and approximately 400 lay Catholics attended.
Father Pavone said that abortion has become the issue that just won't and can't go away. He used the story of Cain, who committed the first murder in biblical history, to illustrate his message. While working in the field with his brother Abel, Cain killed him. When God asked where his brother was, Cain attempted to dodge the issue claiming ignorance. He finally challenged God for questioning him in the first place, saying, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
"With these words he tried to absolve himself of responsibility for his brother," Father Pavone said. "Abel's whereabouts, his safety, his very life were not the responsibility of Cain. God, however, did call Cain to take responsibility for his own actions against his brother... Yes, he is his brother's keeper by the very fact that he is his brother. His brother had rights which he must keep, respect and, if necessary, defend. Cain had done the opposite by holding his brother's rights in contempt. He had no regard for his brother's very right to life."
This biblical story teaches that "we are our brothers' keepers," Father Pavone said. "This is not an option. Rather it flows from our very existence as sons and daughters of one God in one human family. We have responsibility for the weakest and most defenseless ones in our society, the unborn, who are daily ripped apart in their mothers' wombs by abortion. We cannot claim ignorance of their whereabouts as Cain tried to do. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility to them, as Cain tried to do. We cannot make the issue go away."
Father Pavone showed his listeners how the words 'This is my body,' used by Christ to save the world are also used by some to promote abortion. "The same simple words are spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with meanings that are directly contrary to each other," he said "Christ gives his body so others might live; abortion supporters cling to their own bodies so others might die. In giving his body Christ teaches the meaning of love: 'I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person.' Abortion teaches the opposite of love: 'I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself.' Happiness and fulfillment are never found by pushing other people out of the way. They are found when we push ourselves out of the way."
Father Pavone encouraged members of the clergy to preach frequently on abortion. "By not talking about abortion you fail to help women who are tempted to make this tragic mistake," he said. "By your silence you also tell women who have had abortions that it was no big deal and that you really don't care about the pain they now may have. Those who keep silent do what the pro-abortionists do, leaving these women alone with nothing but wounded soul and a dead baby. Pro-lifers, on the other hand, confront the evil. They assist the women who want to have their babies, and they help women who have had abortions to find forgiveness, peace and healing."
"Abortion is a mortal sin," Father Pavone said. "It should be clearly understood that an abortion brings an automatic excommunication upon those who procure it, perform it or cooperate in it. The purpose of the excommunication is not to reject anyone, but precisely to help people understand how evil abortion is and help them turn away from it," he said. "We would not respect a doctor who did not tell us the seriousness of our disease. Neither should we respect a Church that does not tell us the seriousness of our sin."
He asked the priests to stress that the Church offers healing and forgiveness after an abortion. "Let us bear in mind that God's mercy is ready to forgive our sin in the sacrament of confession and to reconcile us to the Church by removing the excommunication."
He asked the priests present to explain the several alternatives to abortion and to present their people with facts so that they are not deceived by the media, politicians, uninformed acquaintances and by themselves.
"Focus on some basic facts that most people do not even know: : there is an abortion every 20 seconds in America; abortions take place in all nine months of pregnancy; less than one percent occur because of rape or incest," he said. "Focus on one or more deceptive slogans such as 'pro-choice.' Is a choice good or bad? It depends on what you are choosing, does it not? My choices end where your rights begin. A moment of thought can dispel a lifetime of slogans."
According to Father Pavone no one is too young or too old to be actively pro-life. "Despite their age people can continue to effectively make their voices heard in arenas of public opinion and through the political process," he said. "Not everyone is a woman, but everyone was an unborn child at one time. Not everyone knows what it's like to be pregnant. But neither do we know what it's like to be torn into pieces by the abortionist's knife. Let no one say he is too old or too young to be concerned about abortion. As long as we possess life we have the duty to defend life."
Moreover, Father Pavone explained that even though abortion is usually presented as an issue of women's rights, it is actually a choice against women. "Surveys of women who have had abortions show that abortion is not a question of giving a woman a choice. It is, tragically situation of women feeling they have no choice, feeling that nobody cares enough about their child to give them any alternative besides going to the abortionist.
The woman feels rejected, confused, afraid, alone and unable to handle the pregnancy. In the midst of all of this she is told by society, 'We will eliminate your problem by eliminating your child. Go get an abortion. It's a safe, easy and legal solution.'"
And, even though abortion is legal, it is neither safe nor easy or even respectful of the woman, said Father Pavone. "When they ask, 'Will it be painful?' they are told 'No,' even though serious pain is involved," he said. "When they ask, 'Is it a baby?' they are told 'No.' Many women have found out only after their abortion that their baby already had arms, legs and sucked its thumb. The clinic workers are told not to volunteer any information if they are not asked. Why can't they respect women enough to tell them the whole truth?"
Father Pavone said physical and psychological effects of abortion are real, asserting that complications from abortions are often under-reported and fatalities are usually recorded as resulting from causes other than abortion.
Father Pavone stressed that it is important to use the correct language when talking about pregnancy and abortion. "When a woman is pregnant, people often say she is expecting a child or is going to have a baby or is going to be a mother," he said. "A woman who is pregnant is not expecting a child. She already has one. The child exists and is living and growing in her womb. She is not about to bring the child into the world. The child is already in the world. The mother's womb is as much in the world as the mother herself. If our language reflects this reality, we will help he world to understand that children in the womb are members of the human family."
While Father Pavone agreed that there can be medical, financial or social circumstances due to which a person should not have another child, he added, "If, however, a woman is pregnant she already has a child. There is no longer a question about whether this child will come into existence; The only honest question or choice left at this point is, 'Will this child be cared for or will this child be killed?' While we can sometimes say that circumstances dictate not having another child, we can never say that circumstances dictate killing a child."
There have been three times in modern history, according to Father Pavone, when the word person has been redefined. In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that black slaves were not legal persons, but the property of their owners. "It took a Civil War and an amendment to the Constitution to correct this mistake," Father Pavone said. "What happened with the 14th amendment was that the law recognized the rights the slaves had from God; human law was brought into line with God's law."
In 1936 the German Supreme Court refused to recognize Jews living in Germany as persons in the legal sense thus making genocide legal. "The power of the state under Hitler declared that these human beings were not persons, and therefore could be killed," Father Pavone said. "Those who were involved in these atrocities were eventually tried before an international court at Nuremburg and convicted of crimes against humanity."
In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade ruled that the unborn have no civil or human rights. They are the property of the mother who can choose to kill them up to the day of delivery.
"The number of babies lost by this mistake is far greater than the number of persons lost under Hitler," Father Pavone said. "Some 1.6 million people a year are destroyed by abortion. If we are decent, caring members of a civilized society anyone who suffers in that society is our concern. The more defenseless the victim the stronger our obligation toward him. The pre-born baby is certainly the most defenseless of all victims."
"To be Christian means to stand on the side of life," Father Pavone said. "To be Christian means that one opposes the killing of the innocent at all times, and that one respects human life at all its stages and in all its conditions."
"There is an entire class of people who are assaulted daily and have absolutely no recourse to the law at all," Father Pavone said. "In fact the law doesn't even recognize them as persons. They have nobody to speak for them...nobody that is, except us. Are we Christian enough to recognize their needs and to speak up on their behalf?...History will judge us on this issue. When future historians look back on the people of our day and upon the incredible loss of some 30 million lives by abortion, what will their verdict be? What will they say about us? Will they call us cowards who didn't speak up, or will they call us true Christians who didn't keep silent?"
Father Pavone said that the contemporary concept of personal freedom and the right to choose has not only become a cherished value in all aspects of life, but increasingly in aspects of death as well. "The chant 'My life is mine,' has also become, 'My death is mine"' he said. "We do not possess a right to die. A right is a moral claim. We do not have a claim on death; rather death has a claim on us. Some see the right to die as parallel to the right to life. In fact, however, they are opposite. The right to life is based on the idea that life is a gift which we do not possess like a piece of property, but rather as an inviolable right. It cannot be taken away by another or even by a person himself. The right to die is based on the idea of life as a thing we possess and may discard when it no longer meets our satisfaction. Right-to-die thinking says there is such a thing as a life not worth living. For a Christian, life is worthy in and of itself and not because it meets certain criteria that we or others set."
There is no law or religion, however, that says people must stay alive at any cost. "Death is an inevitable part of life, and when it is clear that God is calling us from this life, we accept his summons with faith," Father Pavone said. "We firmly believe as Christians that life on this earth is not our final destiny or our highest good...AII of our activities on earth are meant to bring us closer to our true goal, union with God. In some circumstances, prolonging life would not serve that purpose, and may, because of severe burdens, hinder a person from drawing closer to God."
Father Pavone encouraged his audience to pray daily for an end to abortion, become informed about abortion, wear pink and blue ribbons as a sign of support for pre-born boys and girls and wear the precious feet pin which shows a baby's feet at 10 weeks after conception. He also encouraged participants to attend life chain rallies, the March for Life in Washington, D. C., and determine their doctor's position on abortion as well as discover the identities of local abortionists.
"Father Pavone's talks were nothing but energizing," said Peggy Sinanian, archdiocesan pro-life director. "His remarks seemed to strike a chord in our hearts by the way he was able to convey the Church's teaching on human life. He was able to gently expose the prevailing justifications for not being actively involved as Catholic Christians. The people...were impressed with his ability to take the human life issues, our place as Catholic Christians in the political and social struggle, and show us why we should be involved and how important our involvement and commitment can be. He showed us that the bishops' statements, Vatican documents and appeals from the pope tell us that we are 'not a cult to be hidden from the world' but rather to affect society by our informed vote, to run-for office and have a prominent voice in the public square."