Pulpits, priests and congregations are part of Father Frank Pavone's grand strategy for uniting the Catholic community against the church's foes in the ongoing fight over unborn human life.
Enthusiastic and focused, the 36-year-old priest, who was ordained for the Archdiocese of New York in 1988, serves as the national director of Priests for Life.
Father Pavone said his organization is on a mission to make the entire pro-life movement united, purposeful and strong through widespread involvement of all Catholic clergy and laypeople.
"Priests for Life is not just for priests," Father Pavone said at a talk at the Knights' of Columbus family life symposium last Saturday, April 1, in Louisville. "I want to see this as a key in this movement, throwing all of us together, all of us behind our priests and with our priests and encouraging them."
Priests are the key to overcoming the U.S. culture's emphasis on death, especially in the arena of the abortion debate, he said. He said they must take advantage of their pulpits to "more clearly and more vigorously enunciate" the church's teachings on the sacredness of the unborn.
The Catholic Church has an advantage over Planned Parenthood and the other abortion advocates, Father Pavone said.
"First of all, we (Catholics) have a structural reason why they (the priests) are key because Planned Parenthood and these other providers of abortion have nothing in comparison to what we have in this nation," Father Pavone explained. "We have over 19,000 parishes from coast to coast. 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 added. "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."
During the symposium, the Knights of Columbus of Kentucky honored Father Pavone with their "Rosemary Schrode Award" for outstanding service to the pro-life movement. He also made a presentation the day after the seminar to a group of Louisville archdiocesan priests and deacons.
In his talk at the seminar, Father Pavone underscored the importance of priests and the Catholic Church being involved in the pro-life issue by recalling a recent encounter he had with a man who was working for the abortion industry in Pittsburgh.
"He knew that their biggest obstacle and their biggest enemy is the church, and particularly the clergy," Father Pavone said. "They will do everything possible to express their sarcasm and their hatred for religion and Christ and the Bible and the priesthood and the papacy, precisely because they know that we are their biggest obstacle for accomplishing their purposes."
Father Pavone said that priests must explain that there are reasons that are "not a matter of opinion" that abortion is wrong. One of these reasons is that each individual person belongs to God, he said.
"We do not belong to our mother so that the mother by her choice can dispose of us," Father Pavone said. "Nor do we belong to the state, whereby the state can pass a law that says you no longer deserve protection of your life ... and the roots, the foundations of the very commandment 'thou shalt not kill' need to be taught by the church through the clergy."
With about 4,400 abortions performed each day in the U.S., the "consistent ethic of life" is "all the more reason to give priority to abortion," Father Pavone said. "It is the fundamental issue."
Father Pavone said that some priests are timid about speaking from the pulpit about abortion for many reasons. But he also noted the "heroic things" priests are doing for the prolife movement and the "courageous, sacrificial" stands they are taking for the unborn.
To help clergy overcome any apprehensions about preaching against abortion, Father Pavone said he has come up with 22 tips, which he had printed on a fact sheet entitled "Father, Let's Face Our Fears About Abortion."
He said that lay people need to be sensitive of their priests and should respectfully approach them about addressing abortion with their congregations.
Just because a priest "is not actively speaking against abortion" does not mean he isn't pro-life, Father Pavone said.
"Here's the dilemma," Father Pavone 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. Number one, 'abortion used to be okay but now it's not okay.' Number two, 'it was always wrong but he just now figured it out.' Or number three, 'it was always wrong and he knew it but he was silent.' "
Lay people, he said, need to be sensitive to the psychological fact that for a priest to speak against abortion when he hasn't in the past "is a public act of humility and repentance."
For those priests whose dilemma is a fear of offending someone, Father Pavone advised speaking "with the utmost care and compassion" for the women who have had abortions and their families.
He also noted that like anyone else, priests are affected by criticism and praise. Bishops, laypeople and the priests' peers are all a source of pro-life strength for the priests.
"We at Priests for Life seek to provide the peer-to-peer support and encouragement," Father Pavone said. "You (lay people) need to provide the support that you can give, and believe me, it matters."
Father Pavone said society must be made aware of the spiritual, moral and practical assistance the pro-life movement so quietly and unselfishly gives to any woman in a problem pregnancy, even if she has the abortion, before and after the pregnancy.