May 17, 1995
PORT CHESTER—Father Frank A. Pavone is confident the pro-life movement will eventually prevail in the tumultuous struggle over abortion. Why? Because pro-lifers have the truth on their side, he said.
Father Pavone, national director of the New York-based Priests for Life, will speak at St. Paul's Church, 16 Park Ave., Whitesboro, Wednesday, May 10 at 7 p.m. He was invited to speak by the Oneida County Right to Life Committee.
Priests for Life encourages priests, deacons and others to speak out on the pro-life cause. The group was established in San Francisco by Father Lee Kaylor and was recognized by the Catholic Church in 1991. Father Pavone became its national director in September 1993. He has been featured in newspapers, on radio shows and on the Eternal Word Television Network's Mother Angelica Live.
A native of Port Chester, he was ordained in November 1988.
Father Pavone said one message he gives during speaking engagements is that priests have a unique role to play in the pro-life movement, both in educating people and helping them to do something about abortion.
He also speaks of the "marvelous opportunity right now to turn this abortion tragedy around. "
"I tell pro-lifers that without a doubt we will prevail, not necessarily because we have more money or more influence in the media or more positions in government, but precisely because we have the truth," he said. "We have the truth in every aspect of this particular issue—morally, scientifically, philosophically, psychologically - whatever angle you examine abortion from, the pro-life position prevails."
An important message, he said, is "that to be pro-life means to be pro-woman."
"We are not people who stand against women," he said. "We are standing for them and with them. Because women's rights and dignity are not served by giving them the option of killing their child. The fact is, most of the women going to get abortions are not doing so because of freedom of choice. They're doing so because they feel they have no choice. It is the pro-life movement that stands with them to give them real choices. "
The SUN recently spoke with Father Pavone about his work.
Q: How did you become involved in Priests For Life?
A: I've been involved in pro-life work since I was in high school. As the years went on, the more I learned about the abortion tragedy the more the alarms started to go off in my mind - that number one, this was a tragedy of immense proportions that demanded a full response, and number two, that while this was happening, so many people were unaware of what was happening or were choosing to ignore it.
Once I became a priest I began preaching more about it. The more I preached about it the more people were grateful to hear the truth and began to want to do something about it. So I found myself involved more and more in pro-life activities.
I reached the point finally where I was convinced I wanted to do this kind of work full-time. Priests for Life had already been established on the West Coast, so I joined.
Q: What initially drove you to take up the pro-life cause?
A: It was a growing awareness of what this tragedy is. I often think, what would people's reaction be if suddenly the killing of 7-year-old children were legalized and authorized by the state? People would just rise up in revolt and they would say this is wrong. Yet somehow, when it happens seven years earlier while these children are in the womb, everything changes. Suddenly it's a right or a freedom or a choice. It was this blindness that so many people seem to have that really was alarming me.
When I was a senior in high school I went on the annual March For Life in Washington (D.C.). That event (in 1976) really impressed me. I saw all these people from all around the country marching and praying. I just saw people who were very committed to this cause and I began to think more about the importance of it.
Q: How do you feel about the rise in violence surrounding the abortion issue?
A: To me it's a fruit of the "choice" mentality. For decades, the pro-choice people have been saying that it's OK to choose to end a life to solve a problem. And now some people—thankfully very few—have come along and said, "Well, it's OK to end a life to solve a problem." It's a different problem they're talking about and it's a different person's life they're ending, but the mentality is the same. These unfortunate incidents really show that certain choices are wrong and certain choices should not be allowed. I've asked the pro-abortion people —who obviously lament the killings that have occurred just as we do—why they lament these killings, because they were illegal or because they destroyed a life? If it's because they destroyed a life, then we've been saying the same thing all along— life is sacred.
Q: How is the pro-life movement responding to these incidents and the associated negative publicity?
A: One of the things that we point out is, the solution to violence can never be violence. To inflict evil is not a way to solve any problem.
The second thing we point out is there is a very severe media distortion. For example, some reporters have called me from the secular media and asked, "Well Father, how will this affect your work?" It would not affect the movement so badly if these people were to call me during the course of the year about the good things the pro-life movement is doing. We get all the calls from the media when something terrible happens but the day-to-day work of saving babies and helping these women —they ignore it.
The real face of the pro-life movement is that it's a movement that has been extremely peaceful. What's interesting to me is that these incidents of shootings have taken place only since the Clinton administration has been in office. It's interesting because this administration has increasingly curtailed the peaceful and legal activities which pro-life people have used for 22 years. And if you keep curtailing peaceful activity then some people unfortunately feel driven to violent activity.
The government has to look at its responsibility. If they want to stop violence, they need to give people enough breathing space to exercise their opposition to abortion.
Q: In light of recent legislation moving through Congress, how should people get mobilized on the right-to-life issue?
A: First of all, I think they need to look at it as a local phenomenon. It's very important, of course, that people try to influence Congress and so forth, but I think it's helpful if people look at abortion as a problem of the local community. The abortions aren't taking place in the halls of Congress; they're taking place down the street.
Let's take the parish as a unit. Do the people in the parish first of all know the basic facts about abortion? One of the things people need to do is come together and actually see some of the videos that show what an abortion is.
Secondly, do they know the local assistance centers that are available for women in crisis? If there isn't one in the community, could they start one? And if there is one, could they refer people to it? A very good parish project would be to spread information to every home as far as where women can turn to find assistance.
There are so many good materials out describing abortion and why it's wrong. People really need to make a concerted effort to get the truth out, to educate the community.
These are things people can do before the laws change. There's more than one way to stop abortion. Making it illegal is one of the goals, but we can do a lot before that happens.
Q: Sometimes you hear people complaining about their priest or bishop's lack of involvement in the pro-life issue. Do you feel you get support from other priests?
A: Very much so. I'm meeting with priests constantly and their response is always quite positive when I approach them in a positive way. What I say to people who complain in the manner you describe is, don't approach your priest by way of saying, "Father, you're not doing your job." Rather, approach him this way: "Father, we value your leadership. We need your leadership and we want to share with you what motivates us in our own involvement."
Sometimes it's just a matter of the priest not having the information at hand that can help him to be more involved. We provide, for example, homily materials. A lot of priests are very willing to speak about this if they're given some specific materials that show them how to link up the abortion issue with the Scriptures. Then they take it and run with it.
Q: Pope John Paul II, in his latest encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, calls for greater adherence to the Church's pro-life beliefs. What will this mean to Catholics—will it change their behavior?
A: I think the encyclical will have a major impact because it is not only a very strong statement, it's a very positive statement. I see the encyclical as a celebration; it's a hymn to life and to the victory of life.
Notice how the pope titled it— The Gospel of Life. One of the first points he makes in the document is that when we speak of the gospel of life we're simply speaking of the Gospel. It's not a different gospel—it flows from the very heart of everything we've been taught since we've been children. When we talk about Jesus coming to save us, he comes precisely to give us life.
I think by the pope pointing out that the church's pro-life stance is right at the heart of the Gospel, hopefully it will help Catholics to see that this "pro-life" issue is not something extraneous, it's not something optional, it's not somebody else's agenda being thrust onto them. It's not simply a political issue, it's a gospel issue, and we can be at home with being pro-life. If people are at home with being pro-life then they're going to be able to integrate it into their day-to day habits.
Q: How do you feel about Catholics who say they are pro-choice?
A: The very phrase, "pro-choice," is a meaningless phrase—if they would face what the choice is, it would be a little easier to see the contradiction. Pro-choice sounds very good because free will is a gift from God. It distinguishes us from rocks and plants and so on—we have free choice.
The question, of course, is whether a particular choice is good or bad. Well, it depends on what you're choosing. When people say pro-choice they're conveniently avoiding what the choice is. They don't like to say pro-abortion because that begins to pinpoint what you're choosing and people know that abortion is a bad thing.
What I say to the person who says they're pro-choice is, first of all, let's be honest. What is the choice? The choice here is the killing of a child. Can a Catholic be in favor of that? Clearly the answer is no. Not only can a Catholic not be in favor of that, no decent human being can stand up and say, "I am for the choice of killing another person."