Many people are unaware that only 1 percent of abortions are for the victims of rape or incest, said Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life.
"Most people don't know that an abortion can be obtained up to the ninth month," he said during an address at Nativity Church in St. Paul. "Most women don't go to an abortion clinic because of freedom of choice. Ironically, they go because they feel they have NO choice." Fr. Pavone was invited to the Twin Cities last month to speak at Nativity's Masses, and several pro-life gatherings. As a usual practice when traveling, he also attended a prayer vigil in front of an abortion clinic.
Priests for Life is a private association of the faithful that was officially approved by the Church in 1991. It was started by Father Lee Kaylor of the San Francisco Archdiocese who saw the need to establish an association of priests and deacons who would give special emphasis to the teachings of the Church on human life, namely abortion, contraception and euthanasia. He also felt that a formal association would help priests support each other in addressing these issues, provide a network to share resources and exchange ideas, and help spark other priests to get more involved.
Chapters were formed in various states, and a national newsletter was started, which now is mailed to 45,000 members. Lay persons also can join as auxiliary members and many say they are encouraged to see more leadership coming from the priests.
Fr. Pavone has a deep commitment to the pro-life movement that began in 1976 when he was a senior in high school and attended the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. His pro-life involvement turned into a life mission which he feels is a call from God. He joined PFL after his ordination in 1988 and was approached last year to become the national director. Fr. Pavone now serves full time in this position, traveling throughout the country preaching and teaching against abortion and euthanasia, and helping other priests to do the same.
Besides speaking and writing about the issues, he appears frequently on the Eternal Word Television Network teaching moral theology. Fr. Pavone also counsels women who are seeking or have had an abortion. Whenever possible he attends prayer vigils in front of clinics.
All Priests Have Pro-life Role
Fr. Pavone believes firmly that all clergy should be involved with the pro-life movement to some extent, and he works tirelessly to communicate the issues.
"There are a lot of priests doing heroic things in their parishes and schools," Fr. Pavone said. "And there are a lot who are pro-life and want to do something but are not sure what they can or should do without getting negative results. They don't want to unnecessarily alienate people. This not only keeps some from talking about abortion but keeps some from talking about other sins as well. We address these fears and concerns and help some priests to overcome them.
"Priests need to understand that it is not an option, that the defense of human life is something that flows from ordination," he said. "It is not an extracurricular activity that they can do if they like. I'm not doing this because it's my thing or because it's what I like to do, but because this is a tragedy and it needs to be addressed," he said.
"Christ saved us when we were helpless and so we save the children who are helpless and we speak the truth about human life. We're committed to teaching the entire doctrine of the gospels by our ordination."
Fr. Pavone says all Catholics should address the issue and get involved at some level. The movement is so vast there's a place for everyone. While we're not all called to do the same thing, he said, we are called to find what we're supposed to do for the movement and do it faithfully.
Human Dignity At Issue
"If we don't solve the abortion problem then all the other issues we're concerned about are made worse by the fact that abortion continues, because at the heart of every other concern is the dignity of human life," Fr. Pavone said. "Poverty is a concern because people have a right to food and clothing, because they have a right to live. Unemployment is a concern because people have a right to make a living, because they have a right to live. It always comes back to the right to exist, a right that the government does not give, that the Church does not give: it is given directly by God. We have a whole segment of people being deprived of their right to exist."
Pavone encourages people to learn more about abortion by viewing video tapes such as "The Hard Truth," "The Silent Scream" or "The Eclipse of Reason," which show what an abortion is and how it is performed. When tapes like these are viewed, people often become motivated to take action. He also suggests we pray daily for an end to abortion, write letters to newspapers and legislators, and choose only doctors who are pro-life as a way to pressure people who are involved in the issue directly.
He told the parishioners at Nativity, "I have several friends who used to perform abortions. They all say, 'We were not helping women, we were in it to sell abortions and to make more and more money.' One woman told me, 'Father, we didn't even sterilize the instruments because it would have taken too much time.' Another woman told me their financial goal was to perform 10 abortions an hour.
"It is the most unregulated industry in the medical field and women are being harmed and are dying because of so-called "safe" abortions. The women in this country deserve better than this. To be pro-life is to be pro-woman."
Fr. Pavone said too many people just believe slogans and haven't thought it through. "People will say, 'I'm prochoice.' Choice of what? Is a choice good or bad? Doesn't it depend on what you're choosing? My choice ends where your rights begin. Isn't there something wrong when the law protects a car but not a child in the womb?"
"Others will say, 'I can't bring another child into the world.' Well, the child already exists. The only choice is this: Do we care for the child or do we kill the child? God has joined our human life to Himself; we never should throw it away.
"Because it is so basic for humans to respond when people are abused or deprived of their rights, the pro-life movement never will go away. It's not something that can be legislated out of existence or intimidated out of existence; it always will be there.
"The government is making a big mistake by not addressing the underlying problem, which is abortion itself. Abortion is violence and protecting a violent activity makes violence part of the fabric of society. Violence leads to more violence and that's what happens to people who are reacting to the evil of abortion. The best answer is to peacefully and honestly address the underlying problem-abortion-allow it to be exposed for what it is and come up with alternatives to help women with better choices than abortion."
The Truth Will Emerge
Fr. Pavone believes strongly that the truth about abortion will come out someday and people will realize it's not good for society. "Little by little people are realizing this," he said. "But more people have to resolve in their minds this conflict: If abortion is the killing of an innocent, why should it ever be allowed? Would you ever want the law to allow that 2-year-olds be killed? If not, then why when the child is younger?
"If we continue to accept this abortion mentality that a mother can kill her innocent child, then why can't the child kill his innocent mother?" he asked. "It's the same notion. If a human life becomes a problem, we eliminate it. And that notion now is being applied to people who have serious illness. There are many similarities between abortion and euthanasia but people are less educated about euthanasia."
While the battle is constant and his schedule fierce, Fr. Pavone is motivated by continuous prayer, which he says has to be rooted in any kind of apostolic work. He also is motivated by historical events.
"If we were around at the time of slavery in this country, would we have been proud to be part of the group of people who brought it to an end? Or would we be proud to have stood up courageously in Nazi Germany and said these are human beings too, they must not be destroyed? We're really making history right now," Fr. Pavone said. "The pro-life movement is the largest grassroots movement in the country and it's a fabric of history. We're really laying the foundation for respect for life for centuries to come and ultimately, of course, the judgment of God. The perspective of eternal life is crucial. I encourage people to think about heaven every day. Then we become more concerned about what happens on earth."
(Priests for Life can be contacted at P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314. Their telephone number is 718-980-4400.)