April 23, 1995
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS)-Two pro-life activists speaking at a statewide Knights of Columbus symposium April 1 said Catholic priests and women need to be heard more in the fight against abortion.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, and Helen Hull Hitchcock, director of Women for Faith and Family, told 200 people at a family life symposium that too little is heard from those who support the Church's opposition to abortion and artificial contraception.
Many priests are timid about speaking from the pulpit about abortions, said Father Pavone. But they must use their position to make clear it is "not a matter of opinion" that abortion is wrong. He has published a list of 22 tips to help priests preach against abortion.
Lay people should be sensitive to the reasons their priests may not preach about abortion and respectfully approach them about addressing the subject with their congregations, Father Pavone said.
Just because a priest is not actively speaking against abortion does not mean he isn't pro-life, according to Father Pavone.
"Here's the dilemma," he said. "If he starts preaching about it very vigorously and very convincingly, people might come to one of three conclusions, none of which reflects very well on the pastor."
Those conclusions, according to Father Pavone, include: "Abortion used to be OK but now it's not OK." "It was always wrong but he just now figured it out." "It was always wrong and he knew it but he was silent."
For a priest to speak against abortion when he has not done so previously "is a public act of humility and repentance."
Priests are the key to overcoming the U.S. culture's emphasis on death, especially in the abortion debate, said Father Pavone.
Priests use their pulpits to "more clearly and vigorously enunciate" the Church's teachings on the sacredness of all life.
The structure of the U.S. Church gives it a built-in advantage over organizations that support legal abortion.
"We have over 19,000 parishes from coast to coast," he explained. "People come to them every day. And a priest gets up in the pulpit and words come forth from his mouth to those ears."
"We have over 9,000 schools of every level of education," he continued. "We have a vast structure of communication. We don't need to build up the structure all over again. We need to infuse it with the zeal and clarity, the courage that will get this pro-life message out to the people who are coming to us."
In her presentation and in an interview with The Record, newspaper of the Louisville Archdiocese, Mrs. Hitchcock said she frequently finds herself and her organization shut out by those who do not want to hear from articulate, well-spoken Catholic women who support the Church's teachings.
"The only women they are interested in really are women who are rejecting the Church and this is another way of undermining the Catholic faith," Mrs. Hitchcock told The Record.
"The existence of Women for Faith and Family would not be necessary if it weren't for the fact that there's so much anti-Catholicism in the name of women that's going on right now," she continued. She said her group has more than 50,000 members.
She told the symposium audience that defense of the Church is occurring on a worldwide battlefield in response to activities of groups such as the United Nations, which Mrs. Hitchcock describes as openly hostile to the Church for opposing abortions and Catholics for a Free Choice, which supports legal abortion.
Catholics for a Free Choice has been denounced by the U.S. Catholic bishops for using "Catholic" as part of its name while at the same time rejecting Church teaching.
The group was granted credentials as a non governmental organization to the upcoming U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, while Women for Faith and Family was denied permission to participate, according to Mrs. Hitchcock.
"They do not stand for women's rights," she said. "They stand for women's deepest wrongs."
Catholic women have a responsibility to speak out in defense of their Church, she said.
If a bishop defends Church teaching, especially in the areas of sexuality, his opponents ridicule him for his vow of celibacy and say he is unqualified to speak, Mrs. Hitchcock said.
A man who promotes the Church's teaching about women or who "supports normal English language" in liturgical texts instead of inclusive language is called "chauvinist pig," she said.
"That's why there are some jobs that we have to do," said Mrs. Hitchcock. "Catholic women nowadays are much better educated and more articulate than they were in earlier generations. And because of those increased gifts that we have, we have a stronger obligation to speak out."